The Coach and the Jungle doing high school sports? Yes, there was a time.
John Kentera, better known as the Coach, and Jim Rome, whose popular syndicated radio show has a language of its own, once joined forces in reporting the latest on San Diego County prep athletics.
It was back in the early 1990s and they paired up on Saturday mornings at what was then the Mighty 690. Kentera would later move on to Friday nights, with Rome moving on, and take phone calls from 11 p.m. to midnight.
Although Kentera would still be yapping to listeners up until 1 a.m., as he took their questions off the air, never questioning if he was doing the correct thing by staying late.
“Everybody can relate to high school sports and it helps bring the community together,” said Kentera, a longtime Solana Beach resident.
Kentera, who was a standout athlete at San Dieguito and Torrey Pines highs, became synonymous with San Diego high school sports. He’s back with the Lolita’s Mexican Food High School Sports Preview on Thursday nights, 9 to 10 p.m., on 97.3 FM The Fan.
Although Kentera had zero experience as a radio announcer when starting, his reputation of knowing all things San Diego prep sports, and his stint as a college coach, put confidence in Mighty 690 executive John Lynch in 1990.
“He called me down to his office and said the radio station wanted to start a high school sports show,” Kentera said. “I said, ‘that’s great.’”
Then Lynch told Kentera that he would be the host.
“But I had never done radio before,” Kentera said. “John said, ‘It’s simple. When then red light comes on, you start talking. When the red light goes off, you can go to the bathroom or do anything you want.”’
Kentera wasn’t sure but the ratings would reveal he was in the right spot. It started a 25-year run — eventually the show moved to the Mighty 1090 — of filling the radio air waves with the latest on prep sports. But after Kentera left 1090 in 2015, the show didn’t go on.
Fast-forward to this prep football season and Kentera is back, with co-host Braden Surprenant, an assistant football coach at Cathedral Catholic.
It’s a match made in prep pigskin heaven as they race through as many scores, highlights and names as possible. It’s fast-paced and fun and isn’t that what high school sports are supposed to be about?
What makes Kentera a gem to prep athletes is he realizes every player can’t play on a successful team. While Kentera doesn’t ignore San Diego County’s top 10 squads, which is heavily slanted toward North County with La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines holding down the top spots, respectively, he spreads his love around to others.
In the final 10 minutes of the show Kentera spits out more names than someone reading a phone book.
“I love to talk about the small-school teams and how they are doing,” Kentera said. “Those players work just as hard as the guys at the other bigger schools and I like to see them get attention, too. Maybe someone they know at school will be listening and go, ‘Hey, he’s in my math class.”’
The radio dial numbers have changed but without Kentera’s original prep show, it’s doubtful his career would have turned out as it did. Tony Gwynn was doing some work covering San Diego State basketball games but he decided he’d rather watch the Aztecs instead of evaluating them.
Gwynn recommended Kentera, after hearing his work in putting prep athletes in the best possible light. From covering the Aztecs, Kentera became a longtime radio host and now his deep, booming voice is on the FM side of things.
“That was my big break when Tony did that,” Kentera, 60, said. “He said, ‘Heck, Kentera played college basketball, he knows what’s going on.”’
Kentera’s expertise isn’t restricted to the preps. Good luck finding a bigger Padres fan — he attended his first game in 1959 when they were in the Pacific Coast League. His sincere enthusiasm for the team is evident when he hosts the team’s pre-game and post-game radio shows.
“Doing the Padres it great,” Kentera said. “There’s nothing more special for a hometown boy to be a part of his major league baseball team that he grew up cheering for. I’m serious when I say I am blessed to able to do it.”
Bless all Padres fans, really, as the team toboggans toward its eighth straight losing season. But Kentera is optimistic that better days are near.
“Up until the All-Star break I wasn’t seeing much development,” Kentera said. “But after the All-Star break the team has been playing more consistently. With the lineup being more consistent, it’s allowed players to have more success or even fail more, which is part of the learning process.”
Kentera is all-in with young slugger Hunter Renfroe. He likes Luis Urias at second base and he thinks top prospect, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., could move to third base if Freddy Galvis is retained. He’s also keen on starters Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, two southpaw pitchers with high ceilings.
Of course in baseball, like in radio, there’s often static en route to a clean performance and that’s fine with Kentera.
“I’m just fortunate to be back on the radio because I missed it,” he said.
Just like others longed for his return. The popular Kentera is back and among the beneficiaries are teenagers giving their all for their schools.
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him @jparis_sports.