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Lesser Sports Fans Must Concede Title to This Long-Ball Hitter : SPORTS: Teacher Is Super Fan

May 08, 1986|DAVID WHARTON | Wharton is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Mickey Mandell, at 53 years of age, points to the advent of cable television and the videocassette recorder as a turning point in his life.

WOR-TV in New York carries all the games from Madison Square Garden, Atlanta's Turner Broadcasting System shows basketball and baseball on weeknights and, of course, there is ESPN, the 24-hour sports network. What Mandell can't get home to watch, he tapes.

"It's opened up a whole new world for me," he said. "I've been known to watch three games on TV and listen to two more on the radio, all at the same time."

Fan From Way Back

But tell us about the old days, Mickey. The days before you could get 36 channels on the television set in your living room in Woodland Hills. Tell us about the time you dressed up as an usher to get up close to the ring when Archie Moore fought Willie Pastrano in the Sports Arena. Or the time you pretended to be a reporter so you could get into the Forum to see the Lakers in the playoffs.

What about before that? Tell us about when you were a kid back East and you used to sneak into Yankee Stadium. You caught the sports bug early and it took hold, didn't it? You gave up a marriage of 20 years for sports.

"Being married," Mandell said, "you cannot have the freedom to devote your leisure time to being a sports fanatic. You'd either have to have a wife who's a saint or who doesn't care about you."

Memorable Bout

And the single greatest moment of your life? You say it was when Sugar Ray Robinson stopped Jake La Motta in the 13th round in Chicago. February, 1951. La Motta knew he was getting killed, but he wouldn't go down. The ref had to step in.

"That was the most exciting thing I've ever seen," Mandell said. "I am the inveterate sports fan."

In Mandell's living room there is a couch, at one end of which is propped a television set equipped with one of those screen-size magnifying glasses that enlarge the picture. The couch is just long enough that Mandell can sit at the other end and stretch his feet out right up to the screen. On a recent afternoon, home from work, he switched on two baseball games on two different radios and watched the first half of the Boston Celtics-Atlanta Hawks playoff game. He watches at least 10 games of some sort or another each week, and listens to more.

All-Around Sports Buff

There isn't a sport he won't watch, although he acknowledges that he doesn't know much about hockey. During the second quarter of the basketball game, his 23-year-old daughter telephones.

"Every time she calls me up she says, 'Can I talk to you, dad, or are you watching something?' " he said. "Well, I was watching the Celtics."

By 7 p.m., Mandell is ringside at the Country Club in Reseda where he will watch a night of professional boxing. He attends two or three live sporting events a week. This, he says, is way down from the old days, the days before cable television, the days when he was married. Back then, he'd be at the arena or stadium almost every night.

This night, as is usual, he has gotten into the fights without paying. He knows the promoter and has wangled a free pass. Home by midnight, Mandell watches the second half of the Celtics game on tape.

The next morning, second-period health class comes to order in Room 39 at Francis Parkman Junior High School in Woodland Hills. Thirty teen-agers turn away from talking with friends and look toward the teacher's desk. In the sudden quiet there is only a soft, bubbling sound from a row of aquariums at one end of the room.

There are firm rules in Mr. Mandell's classroom. Here, he is no spectator. He is the teacher, the center of attention. He controls the action. Students may speak only when called upon. They must ask permission to approach his desk. No chewing gum.

Yet Mr. Mandell's reputation among the students is as a wisecracker, a joker. Just the other day, during textbook exercises, he suddenly ordered the entire classroom to stand up and sing "The Hokey Pokey." He is known for his deadpan one-liners, gently teasing his students. One boy in his class said that sometimes Mr. Mandell teases a bit too much, "but you get used to it."

"He tries to be funny," said Vann Miller, another student.

"I've been doing this for 30 years," the teacher said. You have to have fun, he said. "If you don't, you'll go crazy."

The students are surprised to hear that Mandell is so inclined toward sports. They say he never talks about it in class. Most of them aren't much interested anyway. These are well-dressed, carefully groomed children whose concerns run more toward movie theaters and record stores. They live in a far different world from that of Mandell's youth, a time when Joe DiMaggio was king and there was no rock 'n' roll.

Friends and acquaintances of Mickey Mandell simply smile and shake their heads when asked about his consuming passion. Mandell himself looks upon his life in simple, behavioral terms that date back to his childhood in Bridgeport, Conn.

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