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The Preps / Pat Cannon : Cry for Ocean View Coach? Or for Prep Sports?

April 02, 1985

Maybe it's because I'm a dinosaur, but for the life of me I can't understand the lack of morality that sometimes turns up in high school athletics.

I am astounded that people are upset over the dismissal of Jim Harris, Ocean View basketball coach. I could understand their being shocked, yes, but outraged?

Sure Harris is a nice guy. His colleagues say basketball is his life.

And maybe it's too bad that Ocean View forfeited its games and a runner-up plaque for the Southern Section's 5-A championship game.

But face the facts. Some people didn't like what was going on in the Ocean View program and blew the whistle.

A comprehensive three-month investigation by the Huntington Beach Union School District alleged that Harris had unduly influenced sophomore transfer students Desi Hazely and Ricky Butler to keep them at Ocean View. The two athletes were declared ineligible last week.

Hazely and Butler should be at Lynwood High School. It is my belief, although perhaps a naive one, that kids should live with their parents even if those kids can play basketball.

But Laurant Brown, a La Canada landscape architect who discovered in the summer of 1983 that Hazely and Brown could dribble and shoot better than most 14-year-olds, apparently doesn't share that belief.

Brown drove the boys to the beach every day for a summer basketball class. He also assumed their guardianship, a maneuver that allowed Hazely and Butler, and Brown's son, Derek, to enroll at Ocean View. At that point, everything was technically proceeding according to the rules, and Jim Harris didn't have to turn the trio away.

Later, though, after Brown had changed his mind and had taken Derek back to Crescenta Valley, Harris allowed the 6-foot 6-inch Butler and the 6-4 Hazely to stay at his home in El Toro for seven months. They, in turn, helped present him with a 24-4 record.

Harris filled out all the right forms, but the investigation uncovered enough impropriety to warrant sanctions.

Last week, when the district report listed the two players ineligible, alleging undue influence, Principal John Myers relieved Harris of his coaching duties, citing unspecified rules violations. In response, Harris retained an attorney, saying that was his only recourse if he was to get due process.

Last Thursday, more than 500 Ocean View students staged a short demonstration, protesting Harris' dismissal.

The final chapter will not be written for many months. Indeed, rumors have already begun that Harris will turn up as an assistant to Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight and he will have Butler and Hazely in tow.

Mater Dei won the 5-A championship. Its best player, Tom Lewis, lives with Pat Barrett, an assistant coach. Lewis' parents live in Arizona.

My father used to say, "If you can't cheat to win, why play?" He laughed when he said it and it got to be a standing joke between us whenever a story surfaced about a college being put on probation, or an athlete being offered money to play for Old Wonderful U.

Maybe it's my fault, but I never noticed that the anything-for-success syndrome had slithered into the high school hallways. What is troubling is that so few seem to care. Indeed, recruiting scandals are ho-hum, recreation in the off-season.

When the Harris story broke, readers called to say that several schools were putting a big rush on Fairfax sophomore Sean Higgins, hoping to lure him elsewhere. One reader complained that freshman Joey Manligius, who left Cleveland to attend Montclair Prep, was being badgered to return to Cleveland.

And then there's James Moses, Alemany freshman sensation, who lives in Compton but who is expected to turn up at one of a number of parochial institutions next season.

Recruiting at the high school level is a cancer, the ultimate form of winning ugly. But it won't stop until more school districts and more principals take the action Ocean View and Myers took.

Even so, Myers doesn't quite qualify for the red badge of courage. He said he knew about the living arrangement all along, and approved of it.

Doesn't anyone find it repugnant that half the kids on the home team aren't from the same area code anymore? What ever happened to growing up in the neighborhood, going to the neighborhood high school and playing for the neighborhood team?

And what about the parents who pay taxes in the school district, partly so that their children can enjoy the athletic programs, when those spots on the team are usurped by outside athletes with superior talents?

And, yes, what about education? Has winning a Southern Section championship become the purpose for which the doors of a school are opened? Coaches are supposed to be educators first. Teaching, coaching, recruiting. Somehow, the order has been reversed.

Just once, I'd like to see a scout hanging around outside the physics lab or the English composition seminar to nab an inner city bookworm on the way out of class.

"Psssst," he'd say. "I like your style on that theory of relativity. You're another Einstein. We'd like to have you."

When that happens, maybe I'll feel sorry for Jim Harris. But until then, I'd rather be a dinosaur.

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