Guajome Park makes history with basketball championship appearance

REGION — The gym was filled to the brim, packed with parents, students and teachers donning T-shirts with a single phrase: “History in the Making.”

This was the scene Tuesday night at Guajome Park Academy, as fans cheered loudly for every basket scored, every offensive foul taken and every defensive play made as the host Frogs defeated the High Tech High-San Diego Storm 70-59 to secure a berth in the school’s first-ever CIF Championship Game.

The Frogs will play top-seeded San Diego Health Sciences at 7 p.m. Thursday in the CIF Division 5 title game at San Marcos High School.

For Guajome Park, a charter school just north of Vista High School, the championship appearance has become a source of school pride, as the school better known for its exploits in the classroom rather than its athletic fields.

“It’s phenomenal,” Frogs Head Coach Greg Garrett said. “It something that (the school) never thought was possible. It has become a rallying cry around Guajome, and for the seniors, it is giving them something to latch on to as they start a new direction in their lives.”

The basketball team has had several solid years in the past – including a pair of undefeated league runs earlier in the decade – but the seasons would often end early in the playoffs at the hands of small school powerhouses like Mater Dei Catholic, Foothills Christian and La Jolla Country Day.

With CIF two seasons ago changing from an enrollment-based to a competitive-balance playoff structure, however, teams like Guajome Park were paired with other schools with similar athletic profiles.

Garrett, who coached at Calvary Chapel in Vista before the school folded in 2015, was hired in 2015 and saw that the team had two players in particular with potential – 6-foot-6 senior forward Kyle Grant and 5-9 senior guard Kevon Belle.

Coming along with Garrett from Calvary Chapel were his son, 5-10 junior guard Cristian, and teammate, 6-3 junior forward Tiberius Ballard. Greg Garrett said he knew he had the pieces in place to compete. So this year, the team challenged itself by playing the likes of Rancho Buena Vista and Tri-City Christian, local schools with stronger athletic profiles.

“I saw the potential of Kyle and Kevon, and I knew pairing them with Cristian and Ty they would be competitive,” Greg Garrett said. “And playing playing against more competitive teams that have more resources and play a tougher brand of basketball, I knew that it would prepare us for what we had to do in Division 5.”

The second-seeded Frogs won their first playoff game against High Tech High-Chula Vista, and fought off a scrappy Storm team, which cut the Frogs’ once-22 point lead to sixth in the fourth quarter.

Garrett said his concern coming into Thursday’s game is keeping his team mentally focused.

“My main concern is having them dialed in and focused on the game plan and execution,” Garrett said. “I’m hoping we can do those things.”

Guajome Park joins Torrey Pines (CIF Open Division), Santa Fe Christian (CIF Division 1), Orange Glen (CIF Division 2) and Sage Creek (CIF Division 3) as the North County boys programs to earn berths in their respective CIF Division finals. Mission Hills (Open), Mission Vista (Div. 4), Escondido Adventist Academy (Div. 4), Pacific Ridge (Div. 5) and San Marcos (Div. 1), advanced to championships in their respective divisions in the Girls playoffs.

Game times and locations can be found at cifsds.org.

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