The Times interviewed Stan Thomas, Southern Section commissioner, and Hal Harkness, the director of interscholastic athletics in the L.A. Unified School District, about gang influence in Los Angeles area high school athletics.
Question--Do gangs have a negative effect on high school athletics?
Thomas--We have schools in the Southern Section that have concerns with gangs, that's for sure. I don't think athletic programs are affected by gangs. Gang members are very reluctant to get involved in sports.
The life style doesn't lend itself. There's too much discipline for them. It's very macho not to be in sports.
Harkness--Some things are prevalent in some communities. And the situation filters into the whole school. Athletics is no different than any other school activity.
No one has mentioned (a gang problem) to me. That's not to say it's not happened.
Q.--What's the procedure if there is some gang activity a coach or school official wants to report to your office?
Thomas--It's a local problem. It's up to the teachers, principals, administration, board of education in some schools. (Gang members) would rather stand on the corner than go to class. It's a way of life. They resent authority.
If gangs are present on campus it does affect athletics.
We were very concerned with the Monrovia incident. (A fight behind the stands at the Pasadena-Monrovia football erupted in gunfire Oct. 3, 1986. Two bystanders were wounded and the game was canceled.) We were happy to lend support to help the schools, though.
Harkness--The coach would go through the principal. There's nothing this office can do with regard to gangs, to community problems. It's up to the school police and the school.
Question--What about a connection between the "drop-in" students who go out for athletic teams and the rising gang influence?
Thomas--That's logical. The peer pressure is greater for them not to participate. They have a different mind set. The gangs are inbred. The gang members' parents are probably gang members also. It's scary. The mothers and fathers are sometimes as involved as the kids.
Harkness--The numbers are a problem. There are a thousand reasons why. The gang element is probably the least of the problems. No question that the level of participation is down. It's universally down from 7-10 years ago.
I don't have a solution. I'm at a loss for an answer. I don't see the situation changing in the near future. We're working hard just to keep what we've got.
I see the lack of interest and participation at some schools, and it concerns me.