#studentfirst – Jackson Slipock – A lifer who is looking forward to being a student athlete in college
The assignment in Matt Armstrong’s English class was poignant and telling.
Write a letter to someone in your life and offer some advice, much like Ta-Nehisi Coates did to his son in his book “Between the World and Me.”
Sierra Canyon senior Jackson Slipock penned his sister Shanna, who is completing her freshman year.
“It wasn’t anything too deep,” Slipock said. “The spirit of my letter was not to make everything so intense and not take everything super seriously in high school. To have fun.”
Yet Slipock’s letter was layered with profound sophistication and understanding from someone with valuable firsthand knowledge.
Slipock has been on the fast track in the classroom with an astounding 4.7 grade-point average.
Yet despite his elite speed on the baseball field, Slipock did not immediately find his stride for Sierra Canyon’s top-tier baseball team.
After two years on the junior varsity squad, Slipock found himself in a strict platoon in his first year on the varsity team last season as Sierra Canyon elected to use a designated hitter in his place at the plate in his pandemic-shortened junior campaign.
“I was putting so much pressure on myself and was pushing myself too hard, and I was struggling on the field,” Slipock said. “During the quarantine, I took some time to reflect and I decided I needed to go out and play the game and make sure it was fun.
“Last year was disappointing for me, and I said I can either sit here and dwell on it or work to get on the field this year. And that’s what I did.”
This mentality shift has helped Slipock establish himself as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter in his senior season for a Sierra Canyon baseball team that is legitimately a top-10 team in Southern California.
His brains and athleticism helped Slipock earn a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Chicago.
Ultimately Slipock was a runaway choice for Sierra Canyon’s Student First award that honors excellence in and out of the classroom.
“This guy has an aptitude that I didn’t see in a lot of Major League ballplayers,” said Sierra Canyon baseball coach Jerry Royster, a former Major League player and manager. “Just watching him grow as a student and a baseball player the last four years has been a bright spot.
“Jackson is the kind of player that when given a goal or an objective, he works to get it done. Like some Major Leaguers, if you give him something that works for them, he runs with it.”
Slipock has the game-changing speed to make a spectacular diving catch in the gap like he did on a big stage against perennial power Bishop Amat or to escape a rundown like he did in a playoff game at Damien High School in his sophomore year as a JV call-up in the playoffs.
There was even one performance this season where Slipock homered, laid down a bunt single, stole a base and made a highlight-reel catch – all in the same game.
“You don’t get to see that out of a lot of high school baseball players,” Royster said. “And I think he’s only tapped into a small portion of what he’s capable of being.
“You won’t see him on the internet gloating about a home run. Jackson is about ‘Coach, what do you need me to do next?’ And if he can’t do it, he’s going to ask how he can do it and get better.”
Speed is Slipock’s most viable asset, as proven with his 18 stolen bases on 19 attempts.
“And we have video proof that on the 19th attempt, he was actually safe,” Royster said, laughing.
Slipock’s defense has been a boon to a Sierra Canyon team that has produced an 18-3 record amid a challenging schedule and is tied for first place with Paraclete in the Gold Coast League.
The highlight-reel catches are apparent. But Slipock also makes the necessary routine plays with his positioning and his in-game reads and is quick to build up his teammates.
“I have a decent arm, but it’s not like (Jaden) Noot or Kassius (Thomas),” Slipock said. “And I really don’t get much activity in the outfield with the pitchers we have because they are so dominant.
“We’ve really been picking it up recently. Come playoff time, we are going to be peaking.”
Slipock’s mother Rehani has been a long-time elementary school teacher at Sierra Canyon, and Slipock is a so-called Sierra Canyon “lifer” who has been at the school since pre-kindergarten.
Slipock has made the premier Head of School list at Sierra Canyon throughout high school. He is part of the National Honors Society, the Cum Laude Society and the National Spanish Honors Society.
“He’s quiet, and he’s not a big talker in the classroom, but he’s present, and that’s a big deal for someone his age,” said Armstrong, his English teacher. “You can really tell that he’s engaged, even if he’s not talking. He’s looking at me. He has his eyes on me the whole time, here in the moment and interested.
“It sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.”
Slipock is not afraid to be whimsical, as shown by his poem about chicken pot pies and broccoli.
“We were supposed to be imitating a famous poem, and I figured it would be funny if it was random and weird,” Slipock said.
Slipock said he leans more toward math and science as his personal preference, but Armstrong said Slipock’s writing is well-developed and clear.
“Maybe his ‘math head’ helps in more of the formulaic way of writing, but Jackson has good ideas and is able to articulate them really well,” Armstrong said. “He thinks about what he writes, and it reads like it matters.
“You can see his sense of humor more and more. He’s wry and dry, which should surprise no one. He always has great things to say when he does speak.”
Slipock said he has dabbled in photography in his free time and has bonded with his grandfather Reggie through this activity. Reggie also enjoys photographing Slipock during his games.
“I like shooting landscapes, nature and wildlife, and I also shoot random stuff that I play around with in Photoshop,” Slipock said. “My grandfather likes to shoot nature. Once every two weeks or so, we come together to compare notes.”
Slipock said he does not know what his major is going to be at the University of Chicago and is keeping his mind open to different career possibilities.
“It’s probably going to be engineering or economics,” Slipock said. ““I want to see how the first year goes and see what I like or don’t like.
“And that’s why I liked the University of Chicago. It has an open curriculum, so it gives me a chance to try different things. And I have been in the Valley my whole life, so I am excited to go to a different city, somewhere I have never been before.”
Armstrong said he likes how Slipock is taking his next step at his own speed.
“Jackson has the capabilities to do anything he wants,” Armstrong said. “I’m actually glad to hear he doesn’t know what he wants to do yet. I think too many kids feel they need to know what they are doing now.
“Jackson operates on a different level. His motor runs different. And that’s refreshing.”
Kristy Walker heading home to Bakersfield
Sierra Canyon is losing one of its iconic coaches.
Kristy Walker is leaving the girls soccer program after nine banner seasons to become Learning Resource Center Director at Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield.
“It’s a career move for me,” Walker said. “I’m grateful for my time at Sierra Canyon. It’s been an incredible nine years.
“I’m from Bakersfield, born and raised, and I still have family there, so it feels like I am going home.”
Walker turned Sierra Canyon into a girls soccer superpower with a scintillating 144-29-17 record for an .803 winning percentage.
In addition to winning the Gold Coast League title in seven of her nine seasons, Walker also guided Sierra Canyon to CIF Southern Section and Southern California Regional crowns in 2015 and 2017.
Sierra Canyon Athletic Director Rock Pillsbury said Walker left a lasting legacy since joining the school as a physical education teacher.
“As with all my coaches that I hire, I say, ‘make me look smart,’ and she has,” Pillsbury said. “Not only has Kristy built the best team in the Gold Coast League, but she has hung some banners with some Regional championships.
“More importantly, she has been a great role model to many girls here at Sierra Canyon. She will be hard to replace, but we wish her luck in her new venture.”
Walker mentored numerous student-athletes who went on to play college soccer, including Taylor Mitchell (Duke), Brooke Golik (Southern Methodist University), Jazy Campbell (Oregon State), Jessica Fitzwilliam (University of Nevada) Lena Perry (University of Pacific), Jessica Fogel (Pacific) and this year’s USC-bound senior Morgan Brown among others.
Her teams also developed a reputation for cohesiveness and harmony.
“I wanted to create an environment where the kids felt this was their family,” Walker said. “Somewhere where they could be themselves and feel they have a team of sisters behind them. I wanted them to feel as if they could just go and compete and be the best players they can be.
“I’m very grateful for all the players I have coached. All of them have touched my life in some way – all of them.”
Walker said the 2015 season was when Sierra Canyon reached a new level, going 26-4-1 while steamrolling through the Southern Section playoffs.
It then prevailed in an epic 1-0 battle with Grace Brethren in the Regional final at Sierra Canyon on Makenna Gandara’s goal in the final seconds.
“That year was a turning point,” Walker said. “Those were some good days. We had a great team.”
Walker was a soccer standout at Bakersfield High who played collegiately at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. In addition to coaching Sierra Canyon, Walker coached five years for the Real So Cal Soccer Club and the previous three seasons for the Eagles Soccer Club.
Walker said she and her husband Todd Kobayashi are excited to begin the next chapter in their lives and said she hopes to continue coaching at both the high school and club levels in Bakersfield.
“I want to thank Sierra Canyon for everything it has done in my career,” Walker said. “I’m grateful to Rock Pillsbury and (Head of School) Jim Skrumbis for trusting me and giving me an opportunity to work at a school like Sierra Canyon and for the growth, the friendships, the learning experiences and all that came in-between. I’m very grateful for Sierra Canyon.”
#StudentFirst – Sydney Schneider –
At age 9, Sydney Schneider pecked away at her mother’s keyboard in the grandiose law offices of Berman, Berman, Berman, Schneider and Lowary in West Los Angeles.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of her parents’ family law practice, Schneider crafted several short stories, tapping into the creative juices that have made her one of Sierra Canyon’s most dynamic students.
“I’ve known I have wanted to be a writer. That’s what I’ve been drawn to,” said Schneider, now a junior.
Schneider, an aspiring screenwriter, might have some undiscovered gems in the depths of her hard drive.
Schneider said she wrote about 20 short stories during her trips to B3 Law, many involving Greek mythology in the vein of her favorite series of the time, Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
“I don’t think I completed any of them,” Schneider said, laughing. “I would spend a month on one, then move on to the next one.”
Look out David E. Kelley – Schneider has the basis to be the next great legal screenwriter of her time.
Schneider already has amassed a wealth of real-life experience that could potentially benefit her screenwriting career.
Not only does she have a hoard of Ivy League schools already pursuing her for her academic and softball prowess, Schneider has founded her own charity, has worked with underprivileged children in a reading program, is a sanctioned youth umpire and has established herself as an accomplished student.
Schneider emerged as a clear candidate for Sierra Canyon’s Student First award that recognizes achievement both in and out of the classroom.
“She’s a scholar,” said Sierra Canyon teacher Danielle Domzalski, who has had Schneider in Honors English, Honors Colloquium and Honors Research classes. “I’m impressed by the maturity of her intellect and the way she works. She seeks advice, takes constructive criticism and runs with it. She really is a pleasure to teach.”
Schneider is the center fielder and left-handed No. 2 hitter for a Sierra Canyon softball team that has roared to an 11-1 start this season. She is also a standout on the So Cal Choppers travel team.
Schneider earned All-Gold Coast League second-team honors as a freshman before the pandemic wiped out her sophomore season. This year, Schneider is batting over .300 and has played superlative defense.
“She is the first junior captain I have ever had, and that should tell you something about her right there,” Sierra Canyon softball coach Regina Jorgensen said. “She always has that attitude, ‘Coach, what do you need me to do?’ Her skill, her leadership, her communication, her integrity – she leads by example.
“When her teammates do well, she lets them know. If they make a mistake, she makes sure they know that the team has their back. She always says we have to win as a team. It’s never an ‘I’ game with her.”
Schneider might follow her sister Sarah into Ivy League softball. Sarah is currently a catcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
Being three years apart, they only were able to play one year together, and Sydney fondly remembers hitting an RBI double to score Sarah in the final playoff game against Warren High that season.
Schneider said six of the eight Ivy League schools have already reached out to her along with schools like Williams, Wesleyan and Amherst. Her softball skills, her 4.53 grade-point average, her 1420 SAT score and a bevy of extracurricular activities make her a sought-out student.
“The thing about Syd is that she has always been a phenomenal student,” Jorgensen said. “Last year, she made up her mind that she could do both and she stepped up her softball game equal to her academics. She always asks for extra hitting or extra fielding, extra fly balls. She just has that 100 percent attitude.”
Not only was Schneider asking for more training during the pandemic with her parents Spencer and Stephanie, she came up with an inspirational idea for a charity.
Letters To Our Elders.
Schneider started a pen-pal program between students and senior citizens living on their own. Schneider connected with several senior citizen organizations and has 20 active pen-pal matches, mostly through her classmates.
Schneider said she is working on expanding the program through her synagogue and said she might be able to dip into Koreatown.
“The isolation of the pandemic led me to this,” Schneider said. “I was thinking how lonely and bored it was to be at home, and a lot of senior citizens did not have the liberty of even going out for groceries during the pandemic.
“So I dreamt up the program and now have students communicating with seniors intergenerationally.”
Her senior citizen is named Stacy, a science fiction writer who has imparted her wisdom to Schneider.
Writer to writer.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Schneider said.
Schneider also became a junior literacy leader for underprivileged elementary school students. She has conducted remote lessons with fourth-grade students from Garden Grove Elementary School.
“It basically has the feel of a summer camp combined with reading comprehension and literacy, so it’s a lot of fun,” Schneider said.
Schneider also became a certified umpire, going to a clinic when she was 12 years old. She has worked in Santa Monica’s Recreation Leagues.
“I ejected a coach on a game-ending play one time,” Schneider said. “People knew not to mess with me after that.”
Schneider has been on the Head of School list every semester except one. She is a member of the National Honors Society and the Spanish National Honors Society. She earned the Silver-Level President’s Volunteer Service Award at Sierra Canyon and contributes to the Trail Blazer school newspaper and The Rambler literary magazine.
Even her research paper in Domzalski’s class was fresh and innovative: “Hyper Masculinity In Contemporary R&B.” Schneider focuses on Frank Ocean, a musical artist who defies that typical macho artist stereotype.
“She chose something she was passionate about and produced a work of scholarship,” Domzalski said. “It was truly investigative and truly inspiring.
“She writes extremely poetically with a real facility of the English language. She brings so much intellectual focus to each discussion. She has a very sharp intellect – she sees things quickly and puts it into practice.”
Schneider said she is wide open in terms of college selection, though Brown is known for writing and Columbia has the location, Broadway connections and film industry links.
Schneider said she would love to pen something like Charlie Brooker’s The Black Mirror, her favorite show at the moment and perhaps the foundation for a future writing career.
“It’s mind-boggling, dystopian science fiction,” Schneider said. “If you watch one of those episodes, you need to take a break from TV for a week because you’ll be in utter shock.
“That’s what I want to write.”
Softball battles through pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, each Sierra Canyon softball player received a surprise package in the mail from Coach Regina Jorgensen.
Inside there were weight bands, a tennis ball and workout logs.
Jorgensen’s plan was to have the Sierra Canyon softball team meet up via Zoom video conferencing 3-4 times per week, checking in about workouts and building camaraderie during the most unique of times.
“Even when we were not together, we were together,” Jorgensen said.
Sierra Canyon was ready to deliver once competition was ready to resume, blazing to an impressive 10-1 record, including a 5-0 start in the Gold Coast League. The Trailblazers have risen to No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 rankings behind Ramona and Whittier Christian.
To think it started with some postage stamps and padded envelopes.
“That’s why we have looked like a team right away,” Jorgensen said. “We really worked together as a team. We had the workouts on a video so if they didn’t remember how to do it, they could watch it. We made it happen.”
Sierra Canyon has rattled off 10 consecutive victories since its season-opening loss to perennial power Oaks Christian.
Victories over Alemany (11-8), Village Christian (18-0) and Burroughs (7-4) ignited the run.
There are the five Gold Coast League victories, including an imposing 6-0 shutout of recent rival Paraclete.
However two performances certainly stood out.
There was a strong 5-3 victory over Granada Hills in which freshman Hailey Schuler homered and pitched a complete game and Sierra Canyon broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning.
The culmination was a 5-4 eight-inning victory over Louisville in which Amber Toven blasted a decisive two-run homer in the eighth inning.
“It was a bomb – it cleared the fence and cleared their snack shack,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen credited Toven, junior Sydney Schneider and San Fernando High senior transfer Justine Bergara for providing a foundation for the squad.
The Arizona-bound Toven is hitting .485 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
The Mulenberg College-bound Bergara has formed a potent 1-2 punch in the circle with Schuler, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.10 ERA, 23 strikeouts and nine walks in 16 2-3 innings while hitting .514 with a whopping 13 doubles.
Schneider has been steady behind the plate handling the pitching staff and provided timely hitting with a .286 average with six RBIs.
“These girls have taken their game to the next level because they do all the extra work,” Jorgensen said. “They never miss practice, they don’t have that sort of ‘senioritis,’ and they show the younger girls how it is done.
“These kids are close-knit. I’ve been here about six or seven years now, and this team is the tightest. They include everyone.”
The leadership from that trio has proven to be beneficial for a team that has had an influx of young talent.
Schuler and freshman catcher Lianna Lara have made an immediate impact.
Schuler is 1-0 and has recorded 25 strikeouts and just three walks in 22 2-3 innings. She is also hitting .500 with nine RBIs and five doubles.
Lara is hitting .375 and is finding a way into the lineup on a consistent basis.
“We have a young team, but Hailey and Lianna are seasoned travel ball players who have filled in nicely and complimented the team very well,” Jorgensen said. “They played on the same travel team, so coming into the same school, they had a sense of confidence already, and they are extremely coachable.”
Sophomore Khari Serve has also played well in the outfield and is batting .300 on the season.
Freshman outfielder Ava Debs has filled in at third base after her sister Madelaine Debs broke her leg and is hitting .290.
Sophomore Parker Whitfield has also done a nice job at second base and is also hitting .290.
“A lot of girls have a lot of responsibilities, and they have all stepped up,” Jorgensen said.
Sierra Canyon has a Gold Coast League matchup Thursday against Viewpoint and a nonleague game on Friday against St. Genevieve before a pivotal rematch at Paraclete on Tuesday, May 18.
Girls’ tennis surpasses expectations
Like many tennis fans, Arthur Ashe has been a personal hero for Sierra Canyon girls tennis coach Rajeev Datt.
In fact, it was one of Ashe’s more famous quotes that resonated with Datt this season at Sierra Canyon.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” Ashe famously proclaimed.
Sierra Canyon did just that in Datt’s first season.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and a practice facility that boasted just two courts, Sierra Canyon enjoyed a breakthrough season.
Sierra Canyon recorded the program’s first winning season and had an individual player – Valeria Sanz-Jones – advance to the Gold Coast League finals and punch her ticket to the CIF Southern Section Individuals.
“This is the first step.” Datt said. “Personally I am over the moon. We have an administration that has backed the team the sport and the girls. The girls have shown incredible drive in wanting to improve.
“It’s who you surround yourself with, and we have the right support system here.”
Datt said he has a three-year plan to elevate Sierra Canyon to the same level as the Gold Coast League powerhouses Campbell Hall and Brentwood.
“In the same way our basketball and football teams are on a national scale, I want that for our program,” Datt said. “I want them to be like those dominant Stanford tennis teams. Or those USC teams under Peter Smith where they are winning left, right and center. Those are the goals.
“In three years, I want to own this league.”
Sierra Canyon finished with a 5-3 overall record and a 2-3 record in the cutthroat Gold Coast League.
Sierra Canyon posted a pair of nonleague victories over Heritage Christian and a nonleague victory over Oakwood.
In Gold Coast League play, Sierra Canyon topped Crossroads and Viewpoint, including a 10-8 thriller against Viewpoint.
“I did not tell the girls the score against Viewpoint during the match,” Datt said. “I wanted them to be more focused on the process than the results. The moment you tell them they are close, they get distracted. In Buddhism, they call it a monkey mind. That’s the thing that can sabotage it. So I tried to control the monkey mind.”
Sanz-Jones, a foreign-exchange student from Spain, finished the regular season with a 13-3 record. Then she avenged one of her regular-season losses to Windward with a 6-2, 6-3 victory in the Gold Coast League semifinals before falling to Campbell Hall’s Vanderbilt-bound Devin Morris in the final.
That qualified her for the CIF Individuals Tournament.
Initially Sanz-Jones was going to return to Spain on May 6. But now Sanz-Jones has qualified for the CIF Individuals Tournament at the Seal Beach Tennis Center on May 7, she might have to switch her travel plans.
“She did not expect to be in this position,” Datt said. “In her short time with Coach Carlos (Giancarlo Bertumen) and myself, she made pretty good progress.
“She is going to have to decide how serious she is about tennis this summer, whether she stays and works here and plays in tournaments or whether she goes back home. It’s definitely a good start for her.”
The doubles team of Peyton Gelfuso and Alyssa Abulaf combined for a 10-4 regular-season record and also represented Sierra Canyon at the Gold Coast League finals. They lost to a Crossroads team that combined the team’s top two talented singles players.
Datt said the doubles team of Chloe Barakat and Angelina Chiang proved to be a “formidable” duo.
Datt also heralded the progress of players like Mariyah Jamali, a sophomore who was able to snare one game against Crossroads’ vaunted singles core.
“The biggest thing is getting the players to believe that you as the coach believe in them, getting them to trust your decision making, your lineups, your advice,” Datt said. “The more they think you care, the more you can get through to them. And you can’t fake it. These kids will be able to tell.
“We did a lot better this year, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement. But what I try to instill upon them is to find what they did positively and focus on that.”
Datt said some of the biggest highlights this year involved food.
There was a postmatch California Pizza Kitchen stop, regular Robek’s Juice visits and homemade goodies made by the players.
“I want to build an atmosphere where they care about each other and they care about the team, and there’s no better way of doing that than with food and drink,” Datt said.
Track team off to fast start
They saw him burst off the starting line.
They watched as he rounded the new Brentwood track and were somewhat astonished by what Sierra Canyon freshman Alexander Bowens had just accomplished.
Back-to-back victories in the 400 meters in his first two Gold Coast League meets was certainly an impressive way to start his high school track and field career.
“I was excited, Alexander was excited and the guys came up and congratulated him,” Sierra Canyon track and field coach Troy Samuels said. “They were proud. They had this look like, ‘Look at that.’ They were definitely surprised.”
In a year marked by uncertainty and change, Bowens’ emergence was certainly enlightening.
His first performance was a respectable 53.9 seconds on April 24. His next race was 53.6 seconds on May 1.
The Sierra Canyon school record of 51-plus seconds is certainly in range for Bowens, who was also the No. 4 overall Gold Coast League runner in the 200 meters in 24.41.
“He’s had some pretty good performances, and for several reasons,” Samuels said. “Reason A, he’s just a freshman. And Reason B, he is still not in his top running shape yet, just like most of these kids out here. They have not had a chance to build a foundation.
“I would venture to say if this was a regular, non-COVID season, he would break the school record this year. I definitely think he can do it by next year. He’s a great kid, and I am looking forward to coaching him the next few years.”
COVID certainly depleted Sierra Canyon’s numbers this year.
Only two other freshman boys – Cole Crawford and Kingston Askerneese – have competed.
Crawford emerged as the No. 7 overall league runner in the 100 meters in 11.98 and the No. 5 overall league runner in the 200 in 24.53. He is the No. 1 overall league freshman in the 100 and No. 2 overall league freshman in the 200.
Askerneese finished as the No. 13 league runner in both the 100 (12.70) and 200 (26.32). He was ranked as the No. 2 and No. 4 league freshman in his respective races.
“For our little MOD squad, they were pretty impressive,” Samuels said.
The Sierra Canyon girls distance core – which won its first league title in 2019 – decided to sit out this track season to focus on the fall season.
This decision allowed star distance runner Isis Diaz – an all-state cross country runner as a freshman and sophomore who qualified for the CIF Masters track and field meet as a sophomore – time to regroup and heal.
Samuels said Diaz has been battling tight hamstring soreness and has participated in weekly physical training to try to overcome the injury.
“This is a great opportunity for her to get healthy,” Samuels said. “She should be running pain-free. We want her to be pain-free. We want her to hone in on a fantastic senior season.
“She just started training again with us, and it was good to see her out here because I saw the brightness in her face.”
Samuels expressed excitement about an uptick in his middle school numbers this season.
Usually Samuels said he gets about eight new middle school track and field athletes. This year, there were 20 new middle schoolers in the track program.
“I think with COVID, a lot of the parents sent their kids to track to give them something to do,” Samuels said. “We don’t even have any meets for them yet, but they are showing up everyday and learning to be active.”
Sierra Canyon has two more meets in this unique high school season – a Gold Coast League meet on May 15 and the Gold Coast League finals on May 28. Both meets will be held at Brentwood.
“My goal this season was to allow the kids to compete, to do it safely and avoid injury,” Samuels said. “If they have an opportunity to run and be in the best shape possible, then I would consider this a successful season.”
#studentfirst Jackson Brass – Building on success in the classroom and field.
Piece by piece. Part by part.
At age 5, Jackson Brass seemed drawn to the family vacuum.
Like something out of a Jason Bourne movie, Brass methodically took apart the vacuum. He studied each piece, how it worked and how it fit together.
Then Brass reassembled it.
“I’ve always been pretty mechanical – I liked anything with moving parts,” said Brass, now a Sierra Canyon senior and lacrosse standout.
Brass would do this too with his PlayStation, mostly to clean it. He would disassemble and reassemble his paintball gun.
Eventually Brass moved to Lego Mindstorm kits in which one can control and code mini robots. He joined a middle school robotics team and eventually developed a passion for cars.
“I’m a bit of a car enthusiast,” Brass said. “In a perfect world, I want to work in the automotive industry.”
Just like the family vacuum, Brass has an uncanny ability to pick apart opposing defenses on the lacrosse field,
Brass earned a lacrosse scholarship to the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he plans to major in Mechanical Engineering.
Brass’ drive made him an ideal fit for Sierra Canyon’s Student First award that recognizes excellence in and out of the classroom.
“Jackson is everything you hope for as a player,” Sierra Canyon lacrosse coach Mario Waibel said. “He leads from the front. He does that in the classroom and he does it on the field, on the sidelines, at practice. He has a great work ethic and a calm demeanor, and he is willing to roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes.
“He’s a dream to coach.”
Brass has demonstrated high motor skills in maintaining a 3.52 grade-point average, thriving in courses like AP U.S. History, Honors English 4, Filmmaking and Economics Financial Literacy.
In fact, Brass said he audited a second economics class during his free period.
“I want to see how money works and how it can work for me,” Brass said.
Brass also has firsthand real-world experience. His mother Ronda Jackson owns two businesses – Decor Interior Design, Inc. and the Studio D paint store.
“I’ve put in a good amount of hours at both places,” Brass said.
Brass made several short films in his Filmmaking class and even submitted one short to the All-American Film Festival.
Brass also joined the Young Ambassador Leadership Academy (YALA), a mentoring program that set up an influential field trip to UCLA.
“YALA connected me to different paths,” Brass said. “That field trip to UCLA is where I first dove into mechanical engineering. That is where they first created Wi-Fi.”
Brass said his interest in cars piqued during trips to the L.A. Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center. His uncle works as an electrical engineer for Ford, and his older brother Reginald Steven Brass is also a “car geek.”
Brass said he has interest in working on project cars, rebuilding old cars and improving their performance.
Brass said he is intrigued by the Japanese Domestic Market featuring 1990s cars from Japan and other cars from Europe like BMW and Porsche.
His target car: the R34 Nissan Skyline.
“I eventually want to go into the manufacturing or design aspects of cars,” Brass said. “If I am on the aerodynamic team, or the brakes team, or making components, that would be great.
“My dream job would be a Formula One engineer – that would be awesome.”
His lock screen: cars naturally.
Brass said he also enjoys car movies like Fast and the Furious, The Italian Job and Baby Driver.
“Well, the first three movies of Fast and Furious, when it was still about cars,” Brass said, laughing. “Even my lock screen on my phone is cars.”
Brass – at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds – can take it up a gear on the lacrosse field too.
Brass did not take up lacrosse until his freshman year. Waibel said Brass left a lasting impression on him during their first practice.
“He had never played before, but he had such a quick first step that two guys fell defending him,” Waibel said. “I had never seen anyone move like that. His footwork was off the charts.
“I told him if he trusted me and if we worked together, he could reach the next level. It was the start of a serendipitous relationship.”
Brass usually is the offensive catalyst, playing as attacker or an attacking midfielder. In fact, Illinois Tech sees him as more of an offensive weapon, something usually reserved for the generational East Coast lacrosse college players.
“I’m kind of a Swiss Army knife – I can be an attacker or a middy,” Brass said.
Brass seemed to hit the throttle in last year’s season opener against traditionally tough Oaks Christian, recording five goals and an assist.
“I had told him before that game that this was his time,” Waibel said. “Jackson stepped out in that game and said this was going to be his season. Then it got cancelled.”
Brass has helped Sierra Canyon to a 3-3 record against stiff competition, including a 16-3 throttling of Crescenta Valley on Thursday. Sierra Canyon opened the season with wins over St. Francis and Oak Park and losses against traditional powers Crespi, Loyola and Mater Dei.
Waibel said Brass shined in particular against Mater Dei.
“He was on fire against Mater Dei,” Waibel said. “It’s not just one thing he does. It’s kind of everything. All the intangibles between the boxes, clearing the middle of the field. There’s no highlight reel for this guy, he’s all grit. He makes everything else happen.
‘He’s the fastest kid, he’s the calmest kid and he’s a leader.”
Brass said he has tried to embrace his leadership role for Sierra Canyon and said he received sagely advice from his father Reginald Sr.
“He said 85 percent of people are followers, so when you have a couple of people stepping up to lead, the rest will follow,” Brass said. “It was just a matter of speaking up.
“I think our team has been making some statements for sure this year. We’re competing against tough teams, and we want to be a top-10 team in the state.”
Waibel said Brass has superstar talent but a humble approach that garners respect from his teammates.
“We had some building and maintenance work in our back rink, and he helped build the scorekeepers’ table and do some other things with us,” Waibel said. “And the thing about him is he is the first person to pick up the balls.
“And he always does it with a smile on his face.”