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Van Episode Leads to Wider Dispute on Summer Sports

July 22, 1987|BILL BILLITER and STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writers

School and state sports officials clashed Tuesday over who had responsibility for the six high school basketball players left alone in their van on a Riverside highway last weekend by their two angry coaches.

Robert C. Martin, superintendent of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, said that neither the boys' high school "nor this school district" approved the summer basketball program in which the boys play. "We do not approve any of these (summer) programs. They are private programs," he said.

But Stan Thomas, commissioner of the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), which governs high school sports, strongly disagreed.

"The schools can't shed responsibility for these sports programs," he said. "They have responsibility 12 months a year. Weren't these ball players called 'the team from Sunny Hills High?' Weren't they wearing Sunny Hills High uniforms?"

The dispute followed a move last month by the CIF to establish greater control over summer sports programs like the one at Sunny Hills High School. In a bulletin issued June 20 to 480 member schools, the CIF's executive committee announced that coaches can use school "equipment, uniforms and facilities" only with the school principal's approval.

That ruling came because "coaches are opening gyms at night for workouts and games and, in some cases, nobody even knows it," said Dean Crowley, an associate commissioner with the CIF's Southern Section office. "It's a tremendous risk if someone gets hurt. . . . There has got to be some accountability for these programs."

On Saturday night, the two assistant coaches and six players were returning from a Palm Springs tournament when the coaches pulled over, took the keys from the van and left the boys alone in the dark 18 miles east of Banning.

The players told Riverside County sheriff's deputies that the coaches became angry at them for losing the tournament and for making noise in the van. Coach R. Lyndon Boop, 26, said Tuesday that neither he nor coach Mark Kremer, both of Fullerton, had any intention of abandoning the boys and had only left them temporarily "to cool off."

Riverside County sheriff's deputies discovered the van and the players several hours later and took them to the sheriff's station in Banning, where they made arrangements for the parents to pick them up.

"The coaches used very bad judgment in this. . . . Some discipline needs to be done to ensure that such a thing is not repeated," the CIF's Thomas said. But Supt. Martin said the school system cannot act against Kremer or Boop "because they weren't operating a school program, it was a private program."

Steve White, the school's head varsity coach who stayed behind in Palm Springs for the night with several other players rather than make the two-hour trip back to Fullerton, said, "I have no idea who would have been liable if someone was hurt" during a game or in some other incident.

Thomas said that a key point on the question of responsibility, under the new rules, is whether Sunny Hills High School Principal Gerald Mieger had approved the summer basketball program and that he assumed that Mieger had.

Martin, however, said Mieger had not.

Martin emphasized that "no one from this school district approved the program because we don't do that."

But Martin also said he doesn't think that the new CIF rules require a principal to approve such programs.

"That's not our understanding of the CIF memo," he said.

Traditionally, schools have not sponsored summer league sports programs, leaving it to the individual coaches to arrange and pay for playing sites, uniforms and travel expenses. Ralph Trigsted, Sunny Hills' athletic director, said it is akin to a "Little League program . . . Just as a parent and the player assume liability in a Little League program, the players in this summer league program assume the liability for any injuries."

He added, firmly: "This was not a Sunny Hills athletic department program."

In some summer high school basketball programs, players must sign waivers relieving the school of any liability traveling to and from practices and games. But White, head basketball coach at Sunny Hills since 1975, said that he has never "had a problem in 12 years" of summer league play but conceded that "maybe there should be" a waiver signed by players.

White said that his team works out at the Sunny Hills gym but that all games are played elsewhere. The Sunny Hills booster club bought the team's jerseys, and entrance fees into the leagues for his varsity and frosh-soph teams (a total of $460) are paid for by the players themselves. He said his two assistant coaches are paid nothing.

The trip to Palm Springs was the first time the team had used the school van this summer, White said. As required, White said he signed out the van through Principal Mieger's office.

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