A 16-year-old girl who was attempting to earn a berth on Polytechnic High's B football team said Tuesday that she has quit the team following a series of harassing telephone calls and a threat made against her on campus by a knife-wielding youth.
Nicky Harris, who had injured an ankle during workouts two weeks ago and hadn't practiced with the team since, said a group of youths shoved her against a wall in the late afternoon of Sept. 10.
"One guy pulled a knife and said I better not play football," Harris said. "A group of them grabbed me and pushed me against a wall. It was a blade three inches long. It was really dark, around the bathroom."
Harris, who is also a flag girl in the school's marching band, said she was attacked after band practice by a "racially mixed group" of five youths. She said she did not recognize any of them and was not hurt.
Harris said she told Poly Principal Phillip Nassief, Athletic Director George Tideback and assistant football coach Mark Erwin of the knife incident, as well as the other forms of harassment.
"The coaches were shocked when I told them about it," she said. "I told Mr. Erwin and he told me it might be better just to quit the team. I told the principal, Mr. Nassief, and he was shocked. I told Mr. Tideback, too. He was also shocked."
Nassief and Tideback denied having heard about the incident involving the knife.
"She has never mentioned a knife to me, at least not to my knowledge," Nassief said Tuesday night. Earlier, Nassief said Harris had told him of being verbally harassed during a team scrimmage last Friday night. "I haven't been told of any other incidents," he said.
When pressed in a later conversation as to whether Harris had told him of any harassing phone calls at her home, Nassief said, "She did mention the telephone calls. I guess I didn't recall that the first time."
Tideback, reached by telephone at his home Tuesday, was asked if he had been told of the alleged knife incident. "I don't know anything about it," he said.
Erwin, however, confirmed that he talked with Harris about the incidents, hearing of the knife attack for the first time on Tuesday. He said he advised her to quit the team for her own safety.
"I was astounded by it all," he said. "I feel for the young lady. I don't want to have her hurt. That's why it's best not to have her on the team, for her own safety."
Dave Heisler, coach of the B team, said he knew nothing about the incidents Harris described.
"She talked to me a little bit today," he said Tuesday, "but I don't know anything about the harassment or the knife."
Reached at her home late Tuesday night, Harris confirmed her earlier account of the attack and the fact that she had reported the incidents to both administrators and coaches. She said she did not know why they denied any knowledge of the incidents.
Harris, a 5-9, 160-pound junior, was trying to make the team as a center. Heisler said she would stay with the team as an assistant manager. He also said that he had no idea why anyone would harass or threaten her at school because of her attempt to become the first female on the football team at Poly, a City Section school in Sun Valley that plays in the 2-A Pac 8 League.
"A lot of guys on the team encouraged her," he said. "She seems bright, friendly and popular on campus."
Officer John Caprarelli of the Los Angeles Police Department's North Hollywood Division, which is responsible for the area around Poly High, said that the neighborhood is well known for gang activity.
"The area surrounding the school is known to be an area where gangs congregate," he said. "It is a high crime-rate area for gang activity."
Harris said that she had been getting telephone calls at her home since last week. The phone calls stopped, she said, on Monday, the day she decided to quit the team.
"People were harassing me a lot," she said. "The voices on the phone say 'Don't play or else.' One guy said if I played I'd be hurt really bad. It's been different people calling."