The final gun has sounded on Al Dellinger's 25-year career as a high school football coach.
But Dellinger, 51, will remain at Venice High as a physical education and health teacher indefinitely. He looks at leaving coaching "not as an ending, but the beginning of the rest of my life."
"It's been a great party, and I hate to see it end," he said. "There are a lot of things I'll miss--the Friday night excitement, the great kids I've worked with, that special bond that you don't get anywhere else.
"I'll miss the preparation and the strategy in the game itself. I'll miss seeing when the kids really execute and pull an upset."
Of course, there are things about the game that he won't miss: injuries, football fields where the grass has been worn down to the dirt, poor sportsmanship of some players and poor grades that keep others from being eligible.
Venice, where Dellinger has coached football for 20 of his 25 coaching years, has had its share of injuries.
"One of the things that has bothered me the most over the years has been seeing kids get hurt," Dellinger said.
He was recently troubled when running back Alvin Cooley, who rushed for 1,121 yards in only seven games, suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery.
"We haven't had a case of paralysis or a death (at Venice)," he said. "And I think the benefits of the game outweigh the risks. It's a wholesome, well-supervised activity and 90% of the kids don't get hurt."
Dellinger, whose career record at Venice was 95-71-8, said that poor playing fields "are irritants. I've had some of my better teams play on fields that were at their worst. But it's a problem that needs to be addressed.
"A bigger problem that I see is the lack of sportsmanship and the taunting that goes on from most teams."
Dellinger, whose last three seasons were spent as Venice co-coach with Tony Chretin, said that high school players have been influenced by seeing the jeering of opponents by college and professional players.
"(The insulting conduct) has gotten worse. Some officials let it go; some don't see it. Some try to do a better job (of combatting it), but I see a lot of teams doing it."
He said that whenever one of his players got "in a kid's face, I would pull him out, and he may or may not (have returned to the game). But a lot of coaches are intimidated or let it go. Maybe they see it as a way of getting a team fired up, or maybe they don't think it's important."
Dellinger said another one of his concerns is criticism that football leaves marginal students with little time to study. "I think football definitely helps keep kids in the classroom. A lot of kids go to high school just so they can play football."
He supports the Los Angeles Unified School District's rule that makes players ineligible if they fail to maintain a C average, but he said that he doesn't think players should be declared ineligible based on midterm reports issued before a team's final regular-season game.
"A midterm evaluation is a progress report that doesn't go on the final record. My feeling--and I think a lot of coaches feel this way--is that a kid should be eligible for an entire semester."
Dellinger, a graduate of UCLA, began coaching in 1966 as an assistant to the late Dick North and Merritt Stanfield at Palisades High. He became coach at Fairfax in 1967 and moved to Venice in 1971, where he was assistant to Frank Cullom.
When Cullom retired after the 1973 season, Dellinger and Art Harris became co-coaches. After Harris left in 1976 to establish a baseball program at West Los Angeles College, Dellinger shared coaching duties with Bill Fairbanks for a couple of years. Dellinger then took over the program by himself until he became co-coach with Chretin in 1989.
Dellinger played guard and linebacker for a University High team that won the first league championship in school history. He then played for a Santa Monica College team that won the Junior Rose Bowl game in 1958.
His teams won league championships in 1977, 1978, 1985 and 1989. The 1989 team, led by quarterback Louis Jones, set a school record with 11 victories.
He said that the 1977 team, whose standouts included running back Keyvan Jenkins and defensive back-wingback Dana McLemore, "turned the program around" when it defeated Palisades, 30-7, and won a Western League championship.
Both teams were undefeated coming into the game, and Palisades, which had dominated the Western League for years, had a strong-armed passer named Jay Schroeder, currently the quarterback of the Raiders.
Venice trailed, 7-0, but rallied to win, 30-7, behind the running and passing of Jenkins. He set a school record by rushing for 303 yards. He ran for three touchdowns and passed for another.
Jenkins played Sunday in the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup. His team, the Calgary Stampeders, lost Canada's equivalent of the Super Bowl to the Toronto Argonauts, 36-21.
McLemore played defensive back for several years with the San Francisco 49ers and currently owns a restaurant and catering business in San Francisco. Jones is playing as a redshirt freshman for second-ranked Washington.
Dellinger said stepping aside as a coach for several reasons. He said that his decision to leave was influenced when Los Angeles high schools went to a year-round calendar this year, cutting summer vacations from 12 weeks to six.
He loves to backpack, play golf and fish, and he reserves much of his leisure time for those activities.
Because this year's team consisted mostly of seniors, Dellinger said it is a good time for a change.
Coaching football is an all-consuming passion, he said.
"I've been (coaching) for 25 years without a break, and when you've spent part of every day thinking about football or working on some phase of your program, it's time to think about doing something else. I want to change my life."