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Helping Hand From the Sports World : Benefit: Raider Howie Long spearheads plan to raise funds for 4-year-old Torrance burn victim.

April 18, 1993|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Raider defensive lineman Howie Long first met Dominic Aguilar, a 4-year-old from Torrance who was severely burned when his home was destroyed by fire in December, he couldn't help but think of his own children.

"I have three small children of my own and the thing you realize is this kind of thing could happen to anyone," Long said. "He's not unlike any of my kids. He's just a 4-year-old boy who happens to have been burned."

Long met Aguilar, an avid sports fan, in early March.

He was initially contacted by the Raiders about bringing Aguilar an autographed football to a benefit golf tournament for the boy in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Long was unable to attend the tournament, but arranged to meet Aguilar two days later at his home in Torrance.

"I just wanted to go down and meet the boy myself and when you meet a kid like Dominic, you get more emotionally attached," Long said. "It just was an enjoyable experience spending some time with him. I really thought he was a great kid."

Long was so touched that he started making calls on Aguilar's behalf in hopes of assisting in the boy's long and painful recovery.

There were calls to companies such as Warner Bros., which sent Aguilar a supply of "Batman" souvenirs ranging from T-shirts to a replica of the Batmobile, and Mitsubishi, which sent him electronic equipment, including a television.

Long also spoke to defensive lineman Sean Jones of the Houston Oilers, a longtime friend and former Raider teammate, and Michael Franks and Robert Bell, who run a chain of restaurants in the South Bay, about having a benefit for Aguilar.

In late March they finalized a plan for a May 2 benefit in the parking lot of The Depot in Torrance. Tickets for the event, which will include wine, hors d'oeuvres and a sports memorabilia auction, are $50 and are available by calling (310) 540-9135.

Long has been overwhelmed by the response of the sports world since he started making calls.

Among the autographed items that athletes have sent for the auction are a basketball from former Laker star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; football helmets from Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and Jim Everett of the Rams; jerseys from John Elway of the Denver Broncos and Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys; footballs from Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers and Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers; a hockey stick from Luc Robitaille of the Kings; and a 25th anniversary Oakland A's bat signed by every member of the team.

Long even received an item for the auction from Raider owner Al Davis.

"Al Davis, who never signs anything, has been kind enough to step up and sign a football for us, and I think that really says something," he said.

Among the other items are season seats for the Clippers and numerous trips and vacation packages. Several members of the Dodgers, including Manager Tommy Lasorda, who will bring an autographed bat, are scheduled to attend.

"The nice thing about this is that it has been very low key," Long said. "Everybody's doing it for the right reasons. So many people have stepped up with no thought about getting any publicity for themselves. These are people who have very busy schedules and have a lot of other things that they are involved with."

Long hopes the event will help to improve the image that many people have of professional athletes.

"There are a lot of negative things that have been said about pro athletes, but I think this is a real positive thing," he said. "There are no egos involved in this. This is just a lot of pro athletes getting involved and doing the right thing."

In addition to the support from his sports friends, Long has been humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. For example, the restaurant is picking up the cost of setting up the tent and providing drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and the Torrance Police Department will provide security.

Jim Sala, event coordinator, said they are hoping to raise $50,000 to $60,000 to help offset the cost of the numerous operations and treatment that Aguilar will require.

He gives much of the credit for the outpouring of support to Long.

"He placed phone calls and all of these people just started coming through," Sala said. "He's always known a lot of people and he's very well liked, and I think it was a cause they all wanted to help him on."

But Long said he doesn't want to take much of the credit and that he didn't undertake the project to gain publicity.

His primary concern is helping a child in need and, with a little help from his friends, Long has already taken a big step in the right direction.

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