High school baseball in inner-city Los Angeles has had tough going since the early 1980s.
Major leaguers Eric Davis of Fremont High and Darryl Strawberry of Crenshaw are high-profile graduates, but inner-city baseball has had problems in recent years with the overall quality of the game.
"It is because the kids are not getting the early training like they used to," said Washington Coach Kermit Taylor, who has been coaching the Generals for 17 years. "They have a lot of ability but not enough background. In baseball, you really need the background to develop good mechanics."
Years ago, there were youth baseball programs throughout the city, instructing players long before they reached high school. Many of those programs no longer exist, although the recent development of John Young's RBI youth leagues has been hailed.
Over the years, inner-city teams have had their share of defeats to San Fernando Valley teams, where youth baseball leagues are prevalent. Some inner-city programs can compete against the Valley teams, but for the most part, they are overmatched.
"The RBI program is definitely a move in the right direction, and you can see some improvement in the players," Taylor said. "But it is going to take some time, and we need more."
Fairfax Coach Kalil Badran played against 4-A Division competition from the Valley during the regular season for years before moving down to the 3-A Division in the Metro League two years ago, where the Lions now face inner-city opponents Manual Arts and Los Angeles.
"There has been a slight deterioration in the quality of baseball in the inner city," said Badran, who has coached at Fairfax since 1970.
"(The Valley) just has a higher level of play, and that is because they have more youth leagues. The mid-city just doesn't have those leagues, so schools like Los Angeles and Manual Arts do not have the numbers."
Another factor in the declining development of players is that many decide to dedicate themselves to other sports.
At Crenshaw, where basketball is \o7 the \f7 sport, under the guidance of Coach Willie West, baseball takes a back seat.
"It has always been like that, where we don't get players from other sports," Crenshaw baseball Coach Major Dennis said. "Most guys who have ability want to play basketball here. The players we get are just that . . . baseball players. We usually don't get the talented athletes from other sports."
Badran says that it takes a lot of work to develop into a baseball player and that the current generation of high school athletes is not willing to put in the effort.
"There are many factors from grades to gangs to drugs, but mainly kids just are not willing to work as hard anymore," Badran said. "It is hard to get a kid out for baseball if he plays another sport. We have only one kid who played football, and he is our only two-sport player."
With the drop in the level of play, inner-city baseball fans are finding other things to do. The average attendance for an afternoon game is about 30.
"The attendance is not up to par to the other sports," Dennis said. "At Crenshaw, we don't draw as well as a school like Simi Valley. Our fans just come and go. It depends on who we are playing."
Despite the problems, some coaches have hopes for better days. At Washington, for example, attendance is up for the first time in years. At Crenshaw, having competitive games against Valley opponents is no longer just a dream.
"We've had problems in the past, but I think that there is improvement being made," Dennis said. "Inner-city schools are becoming more and more competitive, and that's a start."
Even though football season does not begin until fall, it was the main topic in some schools last week as new coaches were hired or about to be hired at Palos Verdes Peninsula, Hawthorne and Hueneme.
Gary Kimbrell, who has coached at Rolling Hills High since 1988, was chosen to coach at Peninsula, which will open in the fall as a consolidation of Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Miraleste high schools. He was picked over Bill Judy of Palos Verdes.
Kimbrell has an 86-55-2 record in his 13 years coaching at Miraleste and Rolling Hills. He has coached in the Palos Verdes Unified School District for 23 years.
Dan Robbins, who coached at Hawthorne for six years, was named to replace Goy Casillas, who resigned Feb. 7 as the Cougars' coach to pursue administration opportunities upon completion of his master's degree.
Ed Knight, who coached at Royal High during the 1970s, is expected to be hired as coach at Hueneme after an Oxnard Union High School District board meeting Wednesday.
Knight will replace George Machado, who resigned in November.
More football: A retirement dinner is scheduled April 19 at the Carson Community Center for Gene Vollnogle, who retired as Carson football coach after last season. Details: Saul Pacheco, (213) 835-0181.