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The City Journals

Mount Vernon Academy ready for another season of bus trips to towns playing 1A boys’ basketball

Dec 10, 2018 04:01PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray’s Mount Vernon Academy High School Principal and head boys basketball coach Mike Lambson (R) puts his Class 1A team through their first practice of the season. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

The average Utahn probably doesn’t visit the tiny towns of Tabiona, Randolph and Manila, all in the same year, very often. But for high school athletes at the Class 1A level — including “city slickers” like those who attend Murray’s Mount Vernon Academy High School — those far-flung outposts are just part of the routine.

“They (the Utah High School Activities Association) change up our region every couple of years, and we always end up going to some places a long way from home,” said Mount Vernon Principal and head boys’ basketball coach Mike Lambson. “But it’s just part of the deal. If we are going to provide our students with opportunities like competitive sports teams, we have to be willing to go.” 

A year ago, the City Journals told you about Mount Vernon’s move from its historic Vine Street location, to the school adjacent to — and previously operated by — Christ Lutheran Church (240 E. 5600 South). From an athletic standpoint, the most noteworthy thing about the move was that, for the first time since the family-owned school opened in 1975, their basketball team was going to be able to play true “home” games.

Until last season, Mount Vernon did not have a regulation-size basketball court on its campus and had to rent space for home games.  One of this year’s returning starters to the boys’ team believes the change was helpful, even though the young Patriots struggled.

“It finally felt like real home games last season,” senior forward Jesse Montoya said. “We were able to get used to our own floor, (basketball) rims and backboards. Before we had all of our practices at our school but then had to play somewhere else. So last year was much nicer.”

Principal, coach and part owner Lambson said another reason for the school’s move to more spacious digs was to grow enrollment.  

“Our elementary grades enrollment has doubled this year, I believe primarily because of our improved facilities,” Lambson said. “We jumped from 25 to 50 kids. But our all-grades student population is still only about 100. That remains well below our high, years ago, of 178 students.”

On the basketball court, joining Montoya as returning varsity starters are sophomores Daniel Lu and Orlando Martinez, along with junior Dennis Matadamas.

Lu is in his second year at the Murray school after moving from China.

“In China there are not as many opportunities to participate in athletics,” he said. “The concentration there is much more on school work. I enjoy living here and being on the basketball team.”

Fellow sophomore Martinez, who is from the Salt Lake area, enjoys playing for Lambson.

“He is a great coach for teaching us fundamentals,” Martinez said. “I think he is a great coach particularly for someone who doesn’t know the game that well. I have learned a lot from him.”

Like Lu, junior Matadamas also arrived at Mt. Vernon from outside the United States, coming from Mexico.

“I think we will be a much better team this year, compared to a season ago,” he said. “We have a lot more experience and should be able to win some more games.”

The small private school never knows for certain which teams it will field from year to year. Officials say it depends on changing student interests. Last fall the school fielded a girls volleyball team —  for the first time in several years — along with cross country.  Boys basketball is the only team competing this winter, with track and field the only definite Mt. Vernon team scheduled to participate this spring, so far.

“Our boys basketball team had no seniors last year and won only one game,” Lambson said. “I don’t ever recall having no seniors on a team.”

Martinez led the team in scoring at nearly 20 points per game. And his steals per game were an astounding 8.95.

“His footwork is amazingly quick,” Lambson added. “He was even mentioned on a statewide high school basketball television program, something pretty much unheard of for a 1A player.”

Montoya, a senior, led the Patriots in rebounding last year, with 6.3 per game.

“If we pull all of the pieces together this season, I think we could qualify for the state tournament,” he said. “I think we are prepared to work hard to accomplish that goal.”

If the Patriots are to be state tournament bound, the circuitous route will take them to some tiny Utah communities, where high school sports are the biggest athletic events around.