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LBUSD Director of Special Education named 2018 Administrator of the Year for Orange County

Irene White, director of special education for the Laguna Beach Unified School District, was named 2018 Special Education Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators Region 17, which covers Orange County.

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Irene White and Luisa Mossa, school psychologist

ACSA is the largest umbrella organization for school leaders in the nation with Region 17 focused on serving educational leaders in the pursuit of equity and excellence to meet the diverse needs of all students in Orange County. One of ACSA’s priorities is to ensure that school leaders are recognized for their excellence and dedication to public education; administrators of the year are selected for their outstanding performance and achievement in their respective categories.

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Irene White and Board President Jan Vickers

“I am so proud that Irene was selected as the ACSA Special Education Administrator of the Year for our region,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jason Viloria. He continued, “She deserves the recognition for her tireless efforts to support our students and staff in providing a supportive learning environment. She is focused on continuously improving our programs in LBUSD and I am privileged to work with such a great educator.” White was nominated by school psychologist, Luisa Mossa, and  surprised with the award announcement by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jason Viloria, Board of Education President Jan Vickers, assistant superintendents, and staff.

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Irene and all her co-workers that are thrilled to see her recognition 

“I am truly honored by the recognition and excited about the work currently in progress in our District,” said Director of Special Education Irene White. “In the eleven years, I have worked in Laguna I have been fortunate to work alongside some of the most intelligent and committed administrators, support personnel, specialists and teachers. I personally take great pride in partnering with our site level staff and parents in creating successful programs and supports for our kids. My dedication to our schools remains strong and I am wholeheartedly committed to engage and lead our ongoing efforts in improving outcomes for students. I am grateful to be in Laguna,” she added. 

ACSA Region 17 will recognize all award recipients at the Orange County Administrators of the Year Banquet on May 7 in Irvine.

LB Water Polo Foundation teams win first place in respective divisions at the Winterfest WP Tournament

Last weekend at the Winterfest 2018 Water Polo Tournament, Laguna Beach Water Polo Foundation teams won first place in their respective divisions. For division 10U Coed-Dylan Williams, 12U Boys-Riley Treister, 12U Girls-Emerson Hensley, 14U B Girls-Lexi Parness, and 14U A Girls-Genoa Rossi respectively were named as MVPs.

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10U Coed: (L-R) Coach Forest Holbrook, Brooke Schneider, Palmer MacBeth, Max Jakle, Dylan Williams (MVP), Santana DelCastillo, Lars Knepper, Coach Chad Beeler, Indiana Treister, Alexander Sarkis, Chloe O’Kane, Michelle Blunk, Sloane Quealy, Sayre Duran

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12U Boys: (L-R) Kaden Breaux, Coach Bryan Buhagiar, Eli Taub, Diego Audebert, Coach Gordon Pike, Riley Treister (MVP), Coach Rob Grayeli, Tyler Swensen, Logan Teeple, Gabe Lewis, Jack Farnel

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12U Girls: (L-R) Isabella Sarkis, Ava Knepper, Emerson Hensley (MVP), Claire Turner, Kara Carver, Coach Kelcie Ferreira, Sofia Umeda,
Estelle Karaba, Kaelyn Chism, Nina Rogers, Presley Jones, Cailin Mulvaney, Siena Jumani

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14U B Girls: 3rd row (L-R) Isabel Foley, Lexi Parness (MVP), Carly Rohrer, Isabel Griffin

2nd row (L-R) Marie Audebert, Eleanor Ramsey, Coach Bridgette Alvarez, Taylor Naughton, Mac Jenal, Lauren Smith, Jordan Schneider, Rebecca Storke, Emily Shabunov

1st row- Sara Block

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14U A Girls: Back row (L-R) Tasha Denny, Genoa Rossi (MVP), Charlotte Riches, Avery Montiel, Lauren Short, Lela McCarroll, Cleo Washer, Coach Rob Carver

Front row (L-R) Myha Pinto, London Boyd, Ava Houlahan, Hannah Carver

The next step in a historic season: LBHS Boys Basketball to face Twentynine Palms in Second Round of CIF Playoffs tonight at home

Led by six seniors and a standout freshman, the LBHS Boys Basketball team (26-3) has shattered just about every team record in school history this year, including the most regular season wins at 25. The team also went undefeated in league play.

After posting a decisive 63-47 victory over Santiago in their CIF Playoffs opener on Wednesday, the team will now face Twentynine Palms (21-8) in the Second Round of the CIF D3AA Playoffs tonight, Friday, Feb 16 at 7 p.m. at home.

Coach Bret Fleming, in his 23rd year as LBHS Boys Varsity Basketball coach, attributes this year’s historic run to “chemistry and defense”.

“I think it probably starts with chemistry. The kids generally really care about each other, they love each other and it shows. Everybody’s kind of learned what each other’s qualities are and how to play together, the teamwork and stuff. That type of thing really shows with the seniors,” said Fleming in an interview.

The “senior six” includes Blake Burzell, Charlie Rounaghi, Owen McMurray, Grady Morgan, Adam Armstrong, and Blake Lusk. A number of them have been playing together since grade school at Boys & Girls Club. And that, says Coach Fleming, has made the world of difference with this group. 

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Photo by Ali Rounaghi

Senior Blake Burzell has been known to “sky high” throughout the season

“I first met Charlie (Rounaghi) and Owen (McMurray) at my basketball camp when they were in third grade. They were two little kids that were just absolutely basketball crazy. They just loved it; they couldn’t get enough. I had a little bit of an inkling they were going to be varsity players one day.”

Burzell is averaging about 21 points per game and is leading the team in rebounds, and Charlie Rounaghi is second in the county in assists at 6.8 per game. “The thing that’s been so incredible about Charlie is he’s averaging about 4 1/2 assists to turnovers per game. He’s really been a key for us this year,” said Fleming.

The team also has four players averaging between eight and 11 points per game (Grady Morgan, Charlie Rounaghi, Owen McMurray, and freshman Nolan Naess), which makes them very well-rounded and difficult to defend.

Coach Fleming also commends senior Adam Armstrong for taking on the role as Sixth Man this year, after starting for the Breakers last year as a junior. “We felt like if he was going to come off the bench, we’d be so much stronger. Just being such a great teammate, he’s accepted that role and I think it’s made us a lot better.” 

The next step for the team in continuing its historic run comes tonight against a very athletic and physical team in Twentynine Palms. The Wildcats come in with a 21-8 record (9-1 in league play), despite losing their coach at the end of the year in a dramatic resignation.

Coach Fleming, who was up until about two a.m. studying film on Wednesday night, says he likes his team’s chances tonight. “I think we understand what we need to do to compete. I know the guys are really looking forward to it.”

On the sidelines, the community has also come out in record numbers to support the boys, says Barbara McMurray, whose son Owen is a senior on the team. “It’s so great to see the whole community coming out together to support the team. This is our Laguna.”

Show your Laguna pride by showing up tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. at Dugger Gym.

--Shaena Stabler

LBHS Boys Basketball drops heartbreaker to Twentynine Palms on Friday night, ending storybook season

The Laguna Beach High School Boys Basketball team dropped a heartbreaker at home on Friday night, losing by three points (57-54) to Twentynine Palms, knocking the Breakers out of the CIF Playoffs and ending their historic 2017-2018 season run. 

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Photo by Ali Rounaghi

Senior Blake Burzell, seen here, finished with 26 points in Friday’s loss, including a “clutch three” to go ahead with 45 seconds remaining 

The Breakers trailed most of the game, but fought back in the third and fourth quarters to take the lead briefly on a few occasions. Ultimately, however, the Wildcats prevailed, winning 57-54.

To the “senior six” and the rest of this year’s team…your community is very proud of you for all that you achieved this year and throughout your entire Laguna Beach career!

Laguna teen wins gold medal at the Pan Am World Championship Jiu Jitsu tournament

William (Paul) Wittkop, 13-year-old son of Laguna Beach High School teacher Scott Wittkop, won a Gold Medal this week at the Pan Am World Championship. The IBJJF Pan Am Jiu Jitsu Championship Tournament for kids was held at the Long Beach Walters Pyramid Center.

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William Wittkop (on right) wins the gold medal at Pan Am World Championship

The Pan Am World Championship Jiu Jitsu Tournament is the largest one for kids in the world. William competed against athletes from South Carolina, Texas, Canada and the UK. He was undefeated in the tournament winning his matches by submission, 5-2, 5-0, and 9-0 in the Gold Medal Match. William competes for Alliance BJJ under Laercio Fernandes and Anthony Frank. 

 “I like the life of training and competing,” says the seventh grader Connections Academy student. “I train seven days a week and over 30 hours a week. My training includes Jui Justu, wrestling, and MMA. I train in the kids’ classes and also with the adults.” 

William’s father has been the LBHS boy’s cross-country coach for years and has also coached LBHS football.  

When asked how he compares William’s training to the rigors of cross-country and football, Coach Wittkop had this to say, “I think training for all sports is very similar. If you work hard, have good coaching and are dedicated, good things will happen.”

The Jiu-Jitsu Pan-American Championship has been held annually since 1995. While the first event garnered only 250 athletes, the event has grown every year and now hosts thousands of competitors from all over the world.

This year, Laguna Beach’s own brought home the gold.

LBHS girls’ soccer team reaches CIF quarterfinals

By Coach Ben Helm

On Friday (today) the LBHS girls’ soccer varsity team plays away in the quarterfinals of CIF against Paloma Valley High School after a win against Crean Lutheran at home on Tuesday.

In my first season as the Head Coach it was daunting to follow the tenure of Bill Rolfing. He and his staff had so much success with their program and established the culture of expectation and excellence that you see today.

Sophomore and midfielder Jayd Sprague takes on the Godinez goalie

Senior midfielder Alden Kramer in action

Senior forward Haylee Jarvis takes charge

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The LBHS girls’ varsity soccer team has excelled this year

The administration and support staff at the high school have been incredibly welcoming and helpful.

This made the transition smooth and let the players focus on being successful on the field and in the classroom. 

During league play, varsity went 8-1-1, putting them first in league. Our first CIF game was at home against Crean Lutheran and we enjoyed a 4-0 win moving us on to play in Lancaster on Tuesday and take a  2-1 victory.  

Although the varsity team gets the most press, our F/S team was very successful and the JV team went undefeated.

I know the girls are always excited to represent the high school and the community of Laguna Beach. 

Thank you to those who support the program!

TOW fifth grader & top surfer Brayden Belden suffers grave head injury while snowboarding

On February 20, Brayden Belden, a towheaded 11-year-old boy known for his terrific surfing skills and happy personality, suffered a near-fatal head injury following a snowboarding jump while on vacation with his family in Oregon.

The young boy was stabilized at a hospital in Bend and airlifted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he now lies in a medically induced coma as he recovers.

His parents were initially told that Brayden had just hours to live. 

Thanks to timely medical care, according to his dad Matt Belden, Brayden’s condition has stabilized and he is expected to survive, though “he’ll have a long road back,” notes a statement on the GoFundMe page that has been set up by friends to help Brayden’s family deal with expected astronomical medical expenses.

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Brayden Belden in action

The latest update on the page, written by his dad Matt, reads in part: “I am very happy to announce that all the medical staff are in agreement with a 99 percent chance of no craniectomy [removal of part of the skull to allow for brain swelling].

“Brayden’s brain swelling appears to have topped out and he is tolerating his meds. He is following the treatment plan and is fighting. Denise and I thank you so much for all of your love and support and I know Brayden feels all the love and prayers and he is fighting.”

Friend Lula Buckle, 11, of Thurston Middle School, says, “Brayden is a true water boy, who always has a smile on his face, he’s funny, daring and the most amazing surfer. We are all so sad that this happened. I think about him and his family all the time. I just want to see him back in the water soon doing what he loves.” 

Brayden won the Under 13 division at the Brooks Street Classic last fall. He is the older brother of Riley, 9, and Kaley, 5, who also attend TOW. 

To contribute to the GoFundMe account, click on

Only a week after the accident, close to $130,000 has already been raised. 

Parents Matt and Denise Belden have expressed their deep gratitude for the generous contributions, as well as for everyone’s thoughts and prayers for Brayden’s full recovery.

Boys & Girls Club announce the date of their “racy” 18th Annual Art of Giving Gala: May 12 

Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach is proud to present their 18th Annual Art of Giving Gala- “And We’re Off!” on Sat, May 12, at Montage Laguna Beach. This is an event you will not want to miss, organizers say. The Club invites guests to participate in an evening that will have a Kentucky Derby-style take on Laguna Beach. 

Invitees are encouraged to dress to impress and pull out all of the stops when selecting a suit or dress for the big night. It is a chance for every female to express her inner Southern Belle, and every guy to get just as decked out as the ladies. 

Take note and do not hold back when planning your Kentucky Derby-themed wardrobe. Guests will get to indulge in the experience of this iconic American event at the finest resort. Guests will start the evening on the Montage lawn with tasty morsels and signature Southern cocktails. 

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Join the Boys & Girls Club 18th Annual Art of Giving Gala for a night of “racy” fun

The evening will continue with an elegant dinner and rousing live auction followed by dancing to some live music that will make guests feel like they are partying it up at the Downs. The events raises funds that help the Club reach more young people with the goal of instilling values of integrity, compassion and respect. 

This promises to be the event of the year, and a chance to generously support the Club and its some 2,000 youth members and families. Proceeds raised at the 18th annual Art of Giving Gala go directly towards empowering children of all ages to reach their full potential, no matter their financial situation. So mark your calendars and join the Boys & Girls Club for a dashing-filled good time at the 18th Annual Art of Giving Gala. Table sponsorships are available.

For more information about the Gala contact Michelle Ray Fortezzo at (949) 494-2535 ext. 7584, or write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit the Club website at

Boys’ Tennis tried hard, but didn’t pull off a win against Aliso Niguel for Coach Rick’s birthday

When they faced Aliso Niguel on Thurs, the boys’ tennis team did its best to bring home a win for Coach Rick Conkey’s birthday, but instead varsity was two matches short of a tie. Mason Lebby won two of his singles matches, 6-2, 6-0. Sam Reynolds won his match, 6-0.  

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Photo by Rob Lebby

Coach Rick celebrates his birthday with his team. Pictured back to front. 

(l to r) Back: Assistant Coach Tim, JV Coach Nic Radisay, Sam Reynolds, Scott Yoder, Julius Heide, Matt Duong, Middle: Rick Conkey, Blake Hawkins, Mason Lebby, Taylor Tran, Andrew Duong, 

Front: Warren Ingersoll

Matt Berk and Andrew Duong won their exciting doubles match, 6-4. Mohammed Berri and Kyle Herkins won their doubles match, and Andrew Johnson and Blake Hawkins won a singles match each. Unfortunately, the other matches were losses.

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Photo by Rob Lebby

Mason Lebby gives his singles opponent some heat

JV won just two matches at home, but had some very exciting nail-biters. The two singles match wins were Mathew Duong and Warren Ingersoll.

Next week, the boys have three more pre-season matches: Mission Viejo, Mater Dei, and Trabuco Hills.

Troop 35’s full week with Patriots Day Parade, Annual Bridging Ceremony and celebration of Eagle Scout

This last week was a very busy one for Troop 35. On Thurs, adult leaders and many of the scouts put out the ‘No Parking’ traffic Cones along the Parade route. On Sat, two Troop 35 scouts, Logan Leeds and Stephen Jensen, had the honor of carrying the banners at the beginning of the Laguna Beach’s annual Patriots Day Parade. Scouts from Laguna Beach Troop 35 and Pack 35 followed a bit later riding on a donated Ganahl Lumber Truck, enthusiastically shouting “Who are we? Best Alive! We are Troop... 35!”

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Troop 35 scouts Andre, Kamran, Stephen, Sam, Logan & Elliott at Parade

After participating in the parade, the boys headed over to their charter organization location. They set up Tankersley Hall at The Laguna Presbyterian Churchto for Webelos II, the highest rank achieved in Cub Scouts, to join the Troop 35 in the Annual Bridging Ceremony. The Troop happily gained 12 new scouts. After the Bridging Ceremony, there was a Court of Honor, celebrating the boys who earned new rank advancement and merit badge achievement. 

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Troop 35’s new Eagle Scout, Nils Wilson, with his parents Glen & Hae Wilson.

Lastly, the Troop celebrated Nils Wilson, Laguna’s most recent Eagle Scout, in an Eagle Court of Honor. The Eagle Rank is not easily achieved as evidenced by the fact that only four percent of Boy Scouts, after a difficult review process, earn this rank. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank may take many years to fulfill.

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