Living Up to the Family Legacy

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By Robert Campbell | LB Indy

At the outset of the 2010-11 Orange Coast league season, Laguna’s Coach Bret Fleming figured his young team would have its hands full with senior-laden squads from Calvary Chapel, Estancia and Costa Mesa. But last Friday, the over-achieving Breakers clinched their fifth straight title with two games to spare. Their opponent for a first round CIF game, to be played next Tuesday at Dugger Gym, will be determined Sunday.

Tyler Kesler, the team’s captain and only senior, comes from an extended family of athletes who have left their marks in the annals of Laguna Beach High School sports history. He has two uncles, an aunt and a cousin that excelled in various LBHS sports. His older brother Christian was a senior center on the 2009 team, the first in 56 years to go undefeated in league play. And his younger brother Cole is one of his teammates and a starting guard.

Perhaps the most famous member of this local family’s sports dynasty is his mother, Shirlyn (Weenig) Kesler. Her 1984 school records in shot put and discus still adorn a Guyer Field display of record holders. Whenever he passes by, Kesler tells his friends, “that’s my mom up there, she still holds the record. I’m pretty proud of that,” he said.

Although Kesler’s impact on his team’s championship season will not establish new benchmarks, his leadership contribution is no less significant, according to Coach Bret Fleming. “He was the kid that set a really good example for all the kids in the program,” he said.

As a junior, Kesler was “the seventh or eighth man off the bench,” said Fleming. “I didn’t have particularly high expectations of him.”

At the end of the regular season last year, before volleyball practice began, Kesler started showing up for post-season basketball practice during seventh period. “That showed me a lot. That he wanted to work on his skills,” said Fleming.

Through sheer will, hard work and self-determination, Kesler won a starting spot. “You really don’t have to look out for him,” said Keith Kesler, Tyler’s dad. “He just goes and does it.”

“He was our hardest worker in the weight room. He was our hardest worker in the gym. And he was our hardest worker out on the track doing conditioning,” said Fleming. “He basically just out-worked kids.”

All that hard work paid off on the court. Entering play last Tuesday, Kesler was leading his team with 190 points, including 23 against Beckman that is a Breaker best this season.

Basketball first taught Kesler the value of hard work in sixth grade, when he left the Boys and Girls Club to join the more competitive National Junior Basketball league. “It made me focus more on having to actually work hard to get something done, to accomplish a tough goal,” he said.

His dad, a Brigham Young University volleyball alum, likes to challenge him on occasion. At a recent basketball camp, a former all-American spoke about attaining goals, such as making 20,000 shots during summer. The elder Kesler put Tyler and his two brothers to the task. “We would be out there just shooting in the dark, you know, trying to average making well over a 100 shots a day to get it done,” Keith said. And they did. All four of them.

That kind of perseverance drives Kesler to rise at 5:45 a.m. to go to church before plowing through an AP course-filled schedule to maintain his 4.2 GPA, after which he subjects his body to the rigors of basketball and volleyball. And somewhere between the balls and the books, he managed to earn his Eagle Scout award recently too. For his final project, he designed and built two storage cabinets for Laguna Beach’s Friendship Shelter.

He plans to keep playing at an intramural level in college. Where that will be, he’s not sure, but he’s hoping to follow the rest of his sports-loving family, including his brother Christian, to BYU, where he wants to study mechanical engineering.

“Working together is just something that you’ll always have to do [in life]. And I think sports, you know, team sports, they can help you start that off right,” he said.

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