KING HIGH: In this, the twentieth year of Martin Luther King High School’s existence, the school added another layer to the excellence it has aspired to create since the school’s very inception.
With over 150 guests in attendance, the Inaugural Class of the King High School Hall of Fame was inducted into what will likely grow to be a highly esteemed arm of the school’s growing and already rich heritage. Performances and contributions to the gala event were given by the choir under Brian Holm’s leadership, the JROTC Honor Gaurd led by Billy Singfield and Activities Director Tami Krueger’s ASB student-leaders.
Kawhi Leonard (’09), Nicole Smith (’05) and the school’s first principal, Ray Plutko were honored in what was a festive and celebratory banquet that was well received by those in attendance.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I left feeling a renewed sense of pride and admiration for our school.” said Literature Teacher Michelle Birchak. “But hearing the words of our founding members and seeing the impact that has been made was inspirational and just what I needed. It was the perfect reminder of why we do what we do.”
Former King Athletic Director, Tony Masi, who serves as the chair of the Hall of Fame Committee was pleased with the outcome. “It was so enjoyable seeing all the friendly faces and people of now and the past, who came together with a common bond – that being King high school – and the fact of surrounding yourself with excellent people turns into excellent results.”
While Mr. Leonard was not able to attend, his sister stood in for him and was humbled by the praise and attention the program showered her brother with. Masi spoke of Leonard’s achievements in his storied two years at King and two more at San Diego State before moving on to the NBA where he is widely accorded as one of the best in the game. A short highlight video was played covering all three stages of his basketball career. Mr. Leonard’s sister, Miesha Slayton, accepted the award on his behalf and gave her thanks.
Nicole Smith, the first one in the history of the school to earn an individual CIF Championship was also inducted. Since 1999, some 25 individual CIF Champions have been crowned while wearing a King High uniform. Smith earned her’s as a freshman playing golf. Yes, a CIF Champ in 9th grade. She would later earn great acclaim at the University of Tennessee and for a time, in the LPGA. Visibly enjoying the moment, in her remarks, Ms. Smith thanked the administration and former teachers, not just for the HOF honor, but also for “how warm and welcoming” the school has been every time she has come back to the campus in the years since graduation.
Ray Plutko, who was given his “dream job” of building a high school from the ground up, was hired in 1998, a full year before the school opened its doors. Together with his tremendous assistant Liz Gibbons, Plutko’s vision for the school and a host of aphorisms that would guide his leadership of it placed the school on the path toward excellence that it still tries to maintain to this day.
“Expect perfection and you’ll end up with excellence” was one of those truisms of Ray that the audience was reminded of.
While a recent health crisis kept Mr. Plutko from attending, his son, Greg Plutko, told the audience that his father’s absence, while a necessity given the circumstances, was deeply disappointing to his dad who was, until just a few days ago, eagerly looking forward to the evening.
As Greg spoke of the legacy his father hoped to leave, he recalled that one thing his dad had always taught was that all educators … all people, for that matter, can work in pursuit of results or impact. Both are important, but the better is impact.
Teacher and head track coach John Corona, said of Greg’s remarks, “It was like you were hearing Ray himself” and with many in attendance who were hired by Mr. Plutko it was a night of fond remembrance. The crowd rose to its feet in applause for the remarks given on behalf of Ray, and by extension, for the impact Ray Plutko had on Martin Luther King High School.
Swim coach Leisha Masi said of the evening, “It was a night to celebrate some pretty incredible athletes, but most importantly, to celebrate the Visionary behind the King High Community; our founding principal. Ray took a chance on me as a twenty-four-year old, very naive teacher. He taught me to lead with grace, write personal letters no matter how busy I may be, and to expect the best from myself and the kids in my classes. His legacy is ever present in my expectations today.”
Impact. Perhaps that word, that legacy, is the tie that binds Plutko, Leonard and Smith together. Each, in their own way, left an impact on the school and the broader community. Each was excellent at their craft.
So an excellent banquet was only fitting to honor each one and continue that relentless pursuit of perfection the school has been seeking since it opened its doors 20 school years ago.
Martin Luther King High School officially opened its Athletic Hall of Fame last night with the first three inductees being none other than NBA superstar and Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Former LPGA golf pro Nicole Smith, and former King principal Ray Plutko (who served on the Athletic Commissions of California and Colorado). Plaques honoring each were added to the gym lobby walls and a ceremony for the inductees will be held at halftime at tonight’s varsity football game. These Wolves have made RUSD proud and will forever be remembered as integral parts of King’s athletic history!
Posted by Riverside Unified School District on Friday, August 31, 2018