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The Killing Fields : In Some L.A. County Schools, It's Matter of Life and Death

Sports vs. Gangs: First in a series. Next: The economic lure of the gangs.

June 23, 1987|ROBERT YOUNT and ELLIOTT TEAFORD | Times Staff Writers

"Under this tree, a boy died."

--Jeff Engilman, former football coach at Manual Arts

Jeff Engilman walks the halls and watches, for that's his job now at Manual Arts High School, a fenced-in compound. As head of security, he tries to make sure that students stay in and non-students stay out.

He checks for hall passes. He looks into suspicious situations. He eases tense moments for frustrated substitute teachers.

As the coach from 1979-84, he won two football championships.

"During (lunch), right over here, right under these fences -- gangland - style -- they held the kid and shot him in the head . . . My fullback was killed the following weekend because, they said, he was seen talking to the policeman. He was riding home--they jumped out of the hedges and they shotgunned him."

--Jeff Engilman

Reggie Morris, Manual's basketball coach, is also on patrol.

A few miles away, at Johnson continuation school, he stomps, he shouts, he whispers. He tries to brainwash, he says. Whatever it takes. Gangs, drugs and decay in the inner city have made Morris almost desperate.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 24, 1987 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 11 Column 6 Sports Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
In Part I of the Sports vs. Gangs series in Tuesday's editions, Jeff Engilman was incorrectly identified as the new football coach at Reseda High. Engilman will be the football coach at Sylmar in the fall.

There must be alternatives, Morris, Central City coach of the year last season, tells students in his assemblies.

Basketball is an alternative. It, and other sports, used to be the way out. But the significance of sports in the inner city has dwindled.

"I'm in a recruiting war with the gangs," Morris says.

Apparently, the gangs are winning. Last season, only 11 of about 1,200 male students went out for the Manual Arts basketball team.

Engilman, pointing at a spot on the Manual Arts campus with the 1981 murder of Michael Carr still fresh in his mind, said: "Gangland-style, they held the kid and shot him in the head."

Carr, a suspected member of the Crips gang who was not involved in athletics, was killed during lunchtime while school was in session.

The next weekend, Earl Bonsinger, who had been the starting fullback for the school's football team, was shot and killed riding home on his motor scooter.

"They jumped out of the hedges and shotgunned him," Engilman said.

Engilman said that a one-time Manual Arts football player was arrested in connection with the Carr killing.

"He wanted me to be a character witness. At the time I said, 'If you want me to be a character witness, first of all, I kicked you off the football team. Second of all, if I'm a character witness for you, then the Crips blow me away. If I don't, the Bloods blow me away.' So I just said I'm not going to do anything.

"So I lost two players. One was my starting fullback. These guys were teen-agers."

Since those killings in 1981, street gangs have gained even more influence in the city and county of Los Angeles.

Paralleling a steady increase in gang activity is a decline in sports participation in many areas, most noticeably South-Central Los Angeles and the inner city.

More kids are joining gangs and far fewer are going out for high school sports.

Male students, coaches and school administrators say, are looking for an easy way out, and in many situations, that appears to be a street gang.

In gang areas, membership means community prestige and influence.

It can also mean quick and easy money. Many gang members sell drugs, especially in South-Central Los Angeles, according to police. The expensive cars and jewelry they display seem to offer a tempting option for a youngster who will probably decide by the time he is in junior high whether he will join a gang or go out for sports.

The gang option apparently is winning but in a curious mixture of cultural values, sporting events are frequent backdrops to gang violence. Thus, gangs not only spoil athletics by skimming potential athletes, but by ruining athletic events as well.

In the last year alone, there have been three shooting incidents involving gangs and sports:

--July 27, 1986. Troy Batiste, a guard on Crenshaw's state championship basketball team and a recent graduate, was shot in the leg by three carloads of gang members.

The attackers shouted gang slogans as they fired in front of a fast-food restaurant near the school at 3:15 a.m. Batiste's teammate, Marcus Williams, was also hit, but suffered only a flesh wound.

Police could not explain the attack because the victims were not known to have any gang affiliation. Police said the shooting was probably a case of mistaken identity.

--Oct. 3, 1986. Gunfire erupts during a fight between rival gangs behind the stands at the Pasadena-Monrovia football game in Monrovia.

Many of the 1,200 fans ran out of the stands in terror, and two bystanders suffered gunshot wounds.

The game was canceled, and players, coaches and officials crawled off of the field on their stomachs.

--March 2, 1987. At Valley Christian High in Cerritos, enrollment 500, Russell Poelstra, a track and field athlete, and another student, Randy Talsma, were shot and wounded in front of the school's weight room by assailants, thought to be gang members, in a planned attack.

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