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Proposed Layoffs Push Pierce to End Football, Basketball Programs

May 28, 1986|STEVE SPRINGER and STEVE HENSON | Times Staff Writers

Pierce College dropped its football and basketball programs Tuesday, school officials said.

David Wolf, president of the college, said the uncertain situation created by expected layoffs of physical education instructors triggered his decision.

Those layoffs are expected to be announced today, after three-month-long negotiations between the L.A. Community College District Board of Trustees and the district faculty union. The crisis has developed over a shift in spending and hiring.

"It took so long for the district and union to negotiate, it was at the point where we hadn't recruited and assistants took other jobs," said Bob O'Connor, Pierce athletic director, of the school's football program. "We had half a staff. A bunch of kids had left. We felt we couldn't do it. We reached the point of no return.

"We just can't wait until June to make decisions on football. The district people must think kids are on campus and just come out for the team in the fall. Maybe that's the way it worked in 1903."

Today, the district board will decide the fate of 13 physical education instructors designated for layoffs and as many as 41 coaching positions for the 76 athletic teams in the nine-college district.

"No matter what happens," O'Connor said of the district decision, "football and basketball are out at Pierce."

Said Wolf: "Pierce has a substantial tradition of winning football, and it's never a president's pleasure to cut back on a successful program. However, under these circumstances, I'd just as soon wait out a season or two to maintain a winning program than tarnish our record."

Connor said that by eliminating the two sports, Pierce will be able to field teams in nine other sports: track, cross-country, volleyball, tennis, golf, swimming, water polo, wrestling and, possibly, baseball.

"It was a decision between a first-class football program," O'Connor said, "or nine other sports first class. By going with nine more minor sports, we saved three PE jobs."

Pierce currently fields 15 teams, the most among schools in the district.

"By next year," O'Connor said, "there should be enough retirements where all the people layed off can be rehired. Then we can hire part-timers again. Within two years, we'll be back in the football business."

That is small solace to those who are now students at the two-year school. According to O'Connor, 100 students were on on the football team last season. The basketball team had 15 players.

"The kids are decimated," O'Connor said. "We'll lose a lot to other schools."

Anticipating the crisis, players began to leave Pierce in March. Quarterback Steve Haddad, running back Robert Davis, wide receiver Ron Williams and tackle Ed Saiz transferred to Moorpark College. Running back Myron Jones enrolled at Valley College in April and, two weeks ago, tackle John Gorecki signed a letter of intent with Cal Lutheran University.

"It makes me sad and unhappy," said Jim Bittner, Moorpark football coach. "They've always been a little ahead of us and we've looked to them as a challenge. We were getting to the point where we could compete on an equal basis, then all of a sudden it disappears.

"It's hard to understand from the outside looking in. I can't understand why. You look at how successful they've been and zip, it's gone. I hope it doesn't have a domino effect with other City schools."

Under Coach Jim Fenwick, Pierce was 28-5 with three Southern California Conference titles in the past three seasons. The team was 9-2 in 1985 and capped the season by playing host to, and winning, the inaugural Brahma Bowl. In 1984, Pierce was 10-1, losing only to Taft in the Potato Bowl.

Fenwick left Pierce in February, however, to become an assistant coach at Cal State Northridge.

Pierce has been without a head coach since then because it was believed that no one on its staff was qualified for the job. State rules prohibit the hiring of new instructors until those laid off are rehired.

"If Jimmy Fenwick had decided to coach at Pierce," Wolf said, "we would have had football. We had to make the best use of the coaching talent we have now under the rules the trustees will adopt.

"It's my feeling it would not be good judgment to make a football coach of a swimming coach just to field a team."

Fenwick was on a recruiting trip and unavailable for comment.

After winning state championships in 1983 and 1984, the Pierce basketball team was 8-22 in 1984-85 under Bill Hughes and 6-23 under Larry Lessett last season.

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