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Tough Kids Do Hitting at the Hoop : Security Camp Cagers Win Games, Also Shoot for Better Life

February 18, 1988|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

In the three seasons that Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has had a basketball program, the records of its varsity teams have been 18-3 in 1986, 15-6 last year and 8-10 this season.

Its players' records are a different matter.

Camp Kilpatrick is a Los Angeles County security facility for boys who are juvenile offenders. And if you ask John Parra, a camp deputy probation officer, why the inmates are serving sentences, he answers succinctly:

"Anything you can think of, they've done."

Henry Vargas, a probation officer and the camp's athletic director, said 115 boys ages 11 to 18 are at the camp, where the average stay is about nine months. Kilpatrick is one of 14 county juvenile camps, and four are walled or fenced. There are schools at three of the camps; in the others, the emphasis is on work projects. Vargas said the youths have been sent to the camp by juvenile courts "for the more serious juvenile crimes: dope selling, gang activity, aggravated assault, armed robbery."

"They get a lot of discipline here," he said, "and (the camp) is pretty much considered a last stop before they get to the California Youth Authority, the last stop before prison."

But with a strong dose of athletics as well as discipline, Parra, Vargas and their probation and teaching colleagues have been trying to make it more of a transfer station where the youths can reenter society. Parra and Vargas had some success with a similar program at Camp Mendenhall, another juvenile camp. In 1978, Parra was stationed at Mendenhall in the Antelope Valley and helped establish its first basketball team. With Parra as coach, the teams played for two years in industrial leagues and had success for five more seasons after they started playing high school teams in the Small Schools Division of the CIF-Southern Section.

But Parra was transferred to Sylmar following the 1985 season. He coached at Mendenhall for one more year but was unable to keep it up because of his other work commitments. And last year was the last time that Mendenhall fielded a team.

Meanwhile, Vargas, who helped Parra coach at Mendenhall, was transferred to Kilpatrick. In 1986, Vargas, with the approval of Charles Turner, the Kilpatrick director, started a basketball program there, which has a varsity and junior varsity that play as free-lance teams in the Small Schools Division.

This year, Vargas, the Malibu camp's athletic director, talked Parra into transferring to Kilpatrick to help with the athletic program, which has also had cross-country junior varsity teams for two years.

Why do Parra and Vargas think athletics is an important part of the rehabilitation process for juvenile offenders?

They believe youths may learn that shooting a basketball is better than using a Saturday-night special to stick up a liquor store. Or that working for team unity is better than gang rumbles.

The Kilpatrick players, nicknamed the Chiefs, seem to be learning both basketball and social lessons, say coaches whose varsities have played against them.

Matt Brennan, head coach at Cate School in Carpinteria, said Cate has played Kilpatrick for two years and that he has been more impressed with the way the Chiefs behave on the court.

"If (an opponent) gets knocked to the floor, they help you up," Brennan said. "If you make a good shot, they say so. If you block one of their shots, they say, 'Nice play.' And they're extremely talented.

"I sensed immediately that, given different circumstances, they would have the potential that any other kid would have."

Ernest Dailey, head coach at Ribet Christian in La Canada, said the camp players "seem like regular kids to me. I thought they were sportsmanlike.

"The idea of them playing together and trying to learn (the team) concept is a step in the right direction," said Dailey, whose team has played the Chiefs for two seasons.

He said it may be that the camp's players had little guidance before and that "once they have some guidance, they'll be fine when they go back out into a regular school program." He added that he wouldn't mind having some of the Kilpatrick players on his team, "not so much for the basketball" but to "help them along."

"Our boys like playing them and see them as a great challenge," said Coach Humberto Ramirez of Highland Hall in Northridge. He said Kilpatrick has beaten Highland Hall three years in a row, usually by large margins.

The Chiefs, Ramirez said, have "played by the rules, and they've had no problems with referees whatsoever and no problems with our players."

Glen Bell, the Kilpatrick head basketball coach for the last two seasons, gave up coaching in 1985 after leaving Dorsey High School where his 1982 football team finished with an 11-1 record and won the Los Angeles City 3-A championship.

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