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Those Who Lose Their Way Often Remain Lost in the Shuffle

November 12, 1986|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

There are some logical reasons why high schools such as Katella, Laguna Hills and Rancho Alamitos haven't been able to develop winning football programs.

For years, they've been limited in numbers and ability and overmatched by the competition in their leagues.

Katella, for instance, has only 25 players on this year's varsity roster, 12 of whom Coach Richard Watson thinks are good enough to play.

Before moving into the Pacific Coast League this season, Laguna Hills, which opened in 1978, spent eight seasons toiling in the South Coast League against some of Orange County's best programs--El Toro, Mission Viejo and Capistrano Valley.

But underlying these reasons, one which transcends on-the-field performances, is the very stigma that is attached to losing. As many have discovered, being labeled a loser can be far worse than actually losing.

It is this losing attitude that pervades, causing some athletes to bypass football, and some players to give less than the full effort necessary to build a winner.

It is this losing attitude that creates the biggest obstacle for coaches trying to rebuild a program.

Nowhere is this more evident than at Katella, which hasn't had a winning season in 16 years. The last time the Knights won more games than they lost was in 1971, when Katella went 6-2-1.

Watson, in his third year as Katella coach, struggled through two, 2-8 seasons and is 3-6 entering Thursday night's season finale against Los Alamitos.

"When you lose over an extended period of time, the expectation level tends to decrease," Watson said. "People become somewhat satisfied with saying, 'Well, you really tried hard.' Getting our kids past that has been one of our major obstacles."

The other has been getting a commitment from the players to train during the summer when the most important preparations for the season are being made in passing leagues and weightlifting and conditioning programs.

"We had some kids who we thought would help us a lot this year, but they went away for the summer," Watson said. "We had one who we thought would be a premier player in the league, but he didn't even make the starting lineup, because he went on vacation during the summer and lost his position to another player."

Chris Reeves, a tight end who played at Katella in 1984 and 1985, said the lack of commitment by some created team dissension.

"The people who showed up (for all the summer practices) had the feeling, 'We really worked hard, where were you?' " said Reeves, now a freshman at USC. "The people who went out for every practice had a lot less respect for the people who didn't. There was a core of people who worked hard, but the majority of others just skated by."

Some just quit. Reeves said three classmates who started during their junior years didn't play during their senior years because they were tired of losing.

Apathy ruled.

"People would start the year supporting us, but after we'd lose a few games, there was an attitude swing," Reeves said. "Students wouldn't go to the games because they figured we'd just lose again. By the end of the year, only about 50 to 75 students and some parents and friends would go to the games. That was kind of disheartening."

Paul Weinberger, in his second year as coach at Laguna Hills, has seen crowds dwindle at Hawk games this year. He said that doesn't affect him, but he is sorry for his players.

"Not to support them because they're not playing as well as others is unfortunate, because they're trying," Weinberger said. "Kids are very sensitive, and they get tired of hearing, 'You guys lost again?' and 'What happened this time?' All those negative things bring them down emotionally. As resilient as kids can be, it's tough to keep hearing that."

Laguna Hills, which has had only one winning season in nine years, was 0-10 last year and is 2-7 this season after Friday night's 10-3 upset of Woodbridge. If the Hawks could have had that kind of victory early in the year, Weinberger thinks the season might have turned out differently.

"When we lost to Dana Hills by a lopsided score (34-7) in the season opener, the attitude was, 'Here we go again,' " Weinberger said. "The things you have to do to be competitive become difficult because the kids, in the back of their minds, are wondering if what they do will bring success.

"If you're coming off a 4-6 season, they're going to believe in what they're doing. But coming off an 0-10 season, kids think, 'Why should I do a couple of extra bench presses?' or 'Why should I run a few extra 40s?' The biggest problem is convincing kids that what you're telling them they have to do will lead to success."

Paul Shane, in his fourth year as coach at Rancho Alamitos, has experienced similar difficulties. The Vaqueros have had records of 5-5, 2-7-1, 1-9 and 0-8-1 under Shane.

"Last year, I had a problem with kids not coming to practice and not coming to meetings," Shane said. "It gets real tough when the kids start making excuses for losing and not caring."

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