Damian Sanchez was downcast. It was the day after his football team's first loss of the season, and the senior defensive back from Hollywood Bernstein High was having a tough time shaking the disappointment.
After a team meeting, he returned to the one-bedroom apartment near Koreatown he shares with his mother and two younger brothers, took a shower, then opened the door to a closet to reach for a clean shirt.
That's when he was once again drawn to the piece of paper taped to the wall next to his clothes. He paused to read the handwritten words.
"I want to tell you that from the moment you were in my belly, I loved you dearly. I love you then, today and always. You are my world, my everything. Without you, there's no me."
It was a letter from his mother, Myrna, and it had the desired effect.
"I see it every day in the morning before I go to school," said Damian, 17. "It makes me think everything will be fine."
Myrna Rivera was a teenager herself when she became a mother. Now she puts in long hours as an office worker to support her family, and there is little time to rest, let alone collect her thoughts and write a letter to her boy about how much she loves him.
A request from Damian's high school football coach coaxed her into expressing her feelings and transformed the relationship she has with her son.
Bernstein Coach Masaki Matsumoto was raised by a single parent and knew firsthand the value of feeling loved. He came to the United States from Japan with his mother, Keiko, when he was 7. "It was just her and I," he said.
Matsumoto, 31, estimated that 60% of the nearly 100 players on his varsity and junior varsity teams are guided by single mothers, the reason, he added, that "my heart is so big for these kids."
The idea for the letter, which he borrowed from coaches at Bothell High, outside Seattle, was simple: Write a letter to your son and say something positive while expressing your love. Matsumoto had written instructions to the parents delivered by their sons — 70 in Spanish, 30 in English, each containing a blank piece of notebook paper.
Once written, the letters were returned in sealed envelopes to Matsumoto by the players, who had no idea what was inside.
When they found out, the reaction was more than anyone imagined.
Damian hand-delivered the envelope to his mother while she was preparing dinner.
Her immediate reaction wasn't positive. "Oh my God, I have to do homework for my kids? I have to do this?" she recalled thinking.
She stuck Matsumoto's letter in a desk drawer, where it stayed for about a week. Then, one night as she lay in bed, she started thinking about Damian and recalling how at 18 she was not prepared to be a mother when he was born.
She was a teenager and wanted to act like one rather than to always be responsible for a baby. As he grew older he noticed, and felt abandoned.
"I was there, but going out with my friends," Rivera said. "He was 5 and remembers. He felt I didn't love him."
So she pulled out a pen and poured her emotions onto the piece of blue-lined paper.
"I admire your efforts to be a better person. I am happy to have you in my life, though I know sometimes I may get on your nerves, but I just want you to know that all your dad and me want is a better life for you."