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Bell's Runners Ring Up Some Respect


Damian Flores is not afraid to express his dissatisfaction with his classmates' lack of support for Bell High's cross-country team.

The program has also had problems with funding: Members were required to buy their own uniforms and to provide transportation to invitationals and last month's City Section finals at Pierce College.

Even so, the senior is confident that the situation will improve since Bell won its first city title, defeating Belmont, which had won eight of the past nine city championships.

"Nobody really cares about cross-country," Flores said. "We don't get as much financial help as other sports. But when we tell our friends that we won, they are starting to show more enthusiasm and appreciate us more."

Birmingham High's Alvaro Mejia won the three-mile race in 15 minutes, 29 seconds, but Flores, Denis Vela and Jorge Perea finished sixth, eighth and 10th as Bell edged Birmingham to win by three points, 56-59. Belmont was third with 81. (Scoring is determined by adding the places of the top five runners from each team. The team with the lowest total wins.)

Bell beat Belmont in the first meet of the season and at the Bell-Jeff invitational at Griffith Park. The Eagles also went on to win the Southeastern Conference title, but Flores still sensed classmates' skepticism.

"The first time we beat Belmont, they were very, very surprised," Flores said. "All the other schools said we were training too hard and that we would not make it through the season. I told my teammates that I wanted to win and to help me because this was my last year. We were very close and everybody was dedicated."

Ernie Aguirre, a social studies teacher at Bell, had no idea of being in contention for a city title when he took over as cross-country coach in 1990. Bell had not advanced to the city finals the previous year, but it placed fourth in Aguirre's first season. The Eagles had never finished among the top five in the meet, which dates to 1944.

"I worked with what I had, and it was a real shocker when we took fourth," Aguirre, 43, said. "We began this year with the attitude that we could do better."

Aguirre tried his best to instill that attitude in his runners.

"The day before (the city finals), he gave us a good speech and I got goose bumps all over," said Jorge Perea, a junior. "I remember how scared and frightened I was the first time I ran against Belmont because they seemed unbeatable. (Aguirre) motivates me and his attitude gives me confidence that I can do well."

Bell should be competitive next season too. Flores and Freddy Valladares are the only seniors among the Eagle's first five runners. Vela and Francisco Camacho are sophomores. Aguirre also expects some additions.

"I've recruited kids at school and got a lot by word of mouth, but winning a city championship will probably be the best recruiting tool of all," said Aguirre, who has had about 40 runners on the team during the last two seasons.

"Hopefully," the Bell coach added, "this will be the start of something . . . "

Belmont joined Wilson as the only schools to win three consecutive girls' city cross-country titles. Patty Trejo, Alma Herrera, Auria Roberto and Yolanda Gomez, whose brother Roman was a city champion at Belmont in 1983 and 1984, placed second, third, fifth and sixth as the Sentinels won with 25 points, ahead of San Pedro (90) and Garfield (129). Wilson won city championships from 1986 to 1988.

Sports Notes: At the state junior college cross-country championships last month, Suzanne Castruita placed fourth to help lead Mt. San Antonio College to a share of the state title with Irvine Valley. Glendale College, paced by Grace Padilla's fifth-place finish, was third. . . . The Glendale men placed fourth in the state meet, lifted by the eighth- and 10th-place finishes of Hugo Allan Garcia and Robert Nelson. Earlier this year, the men's team won its 13th Western State Conference title since 1976. Men's coach Ed Lopez was named the WSC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in five seasons.

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