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It Isn't As Easy As 1-2-3 : Keeping Stats

November 05, 1986|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

The sage who reasoned, "Records were made to be broken," really sold the critters a few yards short.

Athletic records are as much for the fan as they are the player. They serve as yardsticks, points-of-fact that prove your guy is better than the other guy's guy.

They also fill space in newspapers, make for great film retrospectives ("That ball is outta here! There is a new home-run king, and his name is Henry Aaron!") and bring customers into the ballpark.

At their root, records are simply accumulated statistical data.

Eric Dickerson's National Football League single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards may conjure visions of 60-yard gallops, but that record owes a lot to one- and two-yard dives off tackle.

See, when you're dealing with records and statistics you have to realize everything counts. Therefore, how you count becomes important.

It has become so important that professional football, baseball and basketball teams hire teams of statisticians to tally just about everything that moves at each game.

Practically every American college employs a sports information director, who, as one of his or her duties, makes sure every player is properly charted.

And in high schools? . . . Ahem.

Yeah, about that. See, it's like this. Everyone tries, really they do. It's just that it's so dark, and it's all so subjective, and everyone is understaffed, and . . .

Well, if you must know, the one absolute of high school statistics is that they're not.

Remember Ray Pallares? By the beginning of his senior season in 1985, the Valencia High running back had rushed for enough yardage to challenge the Orange County career rushing mark.

Problem was the county's two largest sports sections--the Orange County edition of The Times and the Orange County Register--had different rushing totals for Pallares. The Anaheim Bulletin, which also covers Valencia High, had a third figure.

The papers requested that Mike Marrujo, Valencia coach, break down the previous two years of game film to produce an accurate count.

He did--3,312 yards.

Fine. Everyone started at ground zero, so to speak. Everyone was happy. That is, until Pallares played a couple games and then The Times had one figure, the Register another and the Bulletin a third.

It got so bad that the papers' reporters had to finally agree on a figure before each Valencia game.

Why does this happen? Just take a look at a professional football field. It's clearly marked and well-lighted at night. Ditto for most colleges. Inside the professional and college press box, statisticians pour over the numbers, and then hand out copies of official statistics to reporters.

Everyone gets the same numbers, everyone uses the same numbers, everyone is happy.

Now look at an Orange County high school football field. Oops, forgot to light a match.

Many times they are poorly lighted and poorly marked. Reporters, packed in plywood press boxes, feverishly scribble numbers onto make-shift statistical sheets, many times guessing if the ball is on the 22- or 23-yard line

Look Ma, no hash marks.

What they take back to their paper are their official statistics.

"The differences are going to happen," said Len Locher, who helps compile the Southern Section's statistics. "A guy is going to miss a rush, or another marks the ball a yard farther down the field. Discrepancies are inevitable by the very way high school sports are covered. It's very subjective."

So what's the big deal? A couple of well-meaning reporters miss on a few yards. What could happen?

"A yard or two doesn't sound like it would make that much difference," said Jim Ruffalo, Anaheim Bulletin sports editor. "But you add that up over a 14-game season, and then over a career and you're going to have significant differences like we did in the case of Ray Pallares."

It was the Pallares fiasco that brought together The Times and Register to discuss a possible statistical pool for the 1986 high school football season.

"Jim Colonna (Register sports editor) and I agreed the situation was ridiculous and something should be done," said Herb Stutz, The Times Orange County edition sports editor. "When we publish different statistics we're only confusing the readers. . . . In the end we increase the question of our accuracy and thus our credibility."

But a statistical pool has yet to begin, and this season has turned out like others. On Oct. 29, in the weekly roundup of high school statistical leaders, The Times and Register each listed Laguna Beach's Jonathan Todd as the county's leading rusher. However, The Times listed Todd with 186 carries for 1,125 yards, the Register 179 carries for 1,164 yards. Each paper listed Newport Harbor's Mark Craig as the leading receiver, but The Times has him with 39 receptions, the Register 41.

Capistrano Valley quarterback Todd Marinovich set the Orange County career passing yardage record this season. When he did it entirely depends on which paper's statistics you believe.

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