The upcoming football season at St. Genevieve High could be quite special for Coach Billy Parra. It could also potentially be treacherous.
Parra’s son, William Parra, is going to be on the varsity roster.
There isn’t a coach in any sport that wouldn’t love to mentor a son or daughter at a high competitive level. It can bring a unique sense of joy. It can also create its own problems. And there is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees the outcome. Both coach and son say they understand the optics of the situation, and that they will be heavily scrutinized for any signs of favoritism.
William said he did speak with other coaches and other high schools before deciding to enroll at St. Genevieve.
“There really was no doubt; where my dad goes, I go,” William said. “He’s a really good coach. I know he can help me get better throughout my high school career. During my last [middle school] year, more high schools came to me to see if I might be interested. But I never really thought of anywhere else other than with my dad.”
William, 14, a freshman wide receiver, is the second of Parra’s three children and the only male. He said he expects his father to be hard on him on the field.
“We have discussed it; he’s not going to give me any special treatment,” William said. “I have to work my way to be where I want to be. He’s going to help me, but he’s not going to give me anything out there.”
For his part, Parra said the decision to come to St. Genevieve was made by his son — a decision both he and his wife, Christina fully support. But there will be definitive lines drawn regarding the relationship.
“I’m going to always be ‘Dad’ at home,” Parra said. “I really work hard at not being ‘Coach’ at home because it’s important that we have time as a family — for when he has to talk to me about ‘certain’ things. There’s a time and place for that. And he has to have some time to be a kid.”
But as far as football is concerned, it’s not only the other players who will be analyzing the ongoing dynamic.
“You also have parents watching,” the coach said. “You have to make sure you do everything you can so that people realize you deserve to be playing. If you do all the things you’re supposed to, and force the coaches to play you because you are doing what you’re supposed to do, there shouldn’t be any reason that you shouldn’t be playing. My son, coming into high school, has seen guys I’ve coached and how hard it was [for them] to get to where they wanted. He’s one of those guys now.”
William will not be alone. Parra’s nephews, Danny Rodriguez and Billy Parra, are also on the varsity team. Like William, they have practically grown up around football. All three have been ball boys for Parra on Friday nights at other schools where he was the head coach — Granada Hills Charter and Crespi.
There are lines they must not cross as well.
“I hope they felt that I have their best interests,” the coach said. “Not saying that other coaches won’t. But I think they felt this is where they want be because [I would] take care of them the best way I could and put them in the best position to be successful.
“I’ve also let them know being their coach is different from being their uncle. I have to be ‘Coach.’ You can’t call me ‘Uncle’ or ‘Dad’ — I’m ‘Coach’ here, and I will hold you to the same standard as the rest of the team. But you have to know deep down there’s a higher standard for you because of [perception of] special treatment. That cannot happen.”
Billy Parra, 15, a sophomore wide receiver, is moving up from the junior varsity. He said he is “ready” for whatever attention comes on the field, and that he is eager to compete.
“This past summer I’ve been working to get better,” Billy Parra said. “[Coach Parra] has given me tips on workouts. And we keep adding to it.”
Rodriguez, 16, a junior, returns as the starting quarterback. Although the Valiants are a run-oriented offense, Parra said Rodriguez would have “the green light” to expand the passing game. It has been one of the things St. Genevieve has been working on this summer.
Rodriguez had a decent sophomore season, but said he could have done a better job.
“I’m not as nervous as I was going into last season,” Rodriguez said. “[Last year] it was more about telling [veteran players] what to do. But I’ve got the playbook down. We’ve been working hard in the weight room. And I have experience from last year. I’m more excited than anything.”
Parra enters the 2019 season with one of his youngest teams. There are only four returning seniors. The bulk of the 40-player roster is sophomores.
But there are still 15 returning players who, the coach says, remember well the failings of the 5-5 season in 2018 that ended without a playoff appearance.
That doesn’t keep Parra from being excited about the prospects.
“This is the most athletic team we’ve had, as far as skill levels, since 2016,” he said. “It’s a well-rounded group of kids who have played football since they were seven years old.”
The Valiants still face a difficult challenge to make the post season, and not only because of youth. St. Genevieve is in its second year of playing in the Del Rey League, which was a big step up from its previous leagues. In the Southern Section, the Valiants are a Division 11 team. The other league teams — Harvard-Westlake High, La Salle High of Pasadena, St. Anthony High of Long Beach and St. Paul High of Santa Fe Springs — are all Division Nine schools or higher.
“I think we’re all pretty much equal besides St. Paul,” Parra said. “They are definitely on another level, and I expect them to be bumped to the next [higher] league next year, which for them would be the Angelus League. And next year if we still in the [Del Rey] league, I want to stay here.”