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A Victory, Regardless of the Score : The opponents were racial tension and fear when the Hollywood and Manual Arts high football teams met in 1967. Courage and mutual respect prevailed.

June 13, 1993|CHRISTOPHER E. ANGELO | Jack P. Crowther was superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 1962 to 1970. He spent 36 years in the district, as a teacher, principal and an administrator. Crowther died May 21 at the age of 83. Christopher E. Angelo is an attorney who practices in Westwood. and

It was 1967. Los Angeles was still recovering from the Watts riots two years earlier. Against this backdrop was a football game scheduled between the predominantly white Hollywood High team, of which I was co-captain, and the predominantly black Manual Arts High team.

Many civic leaders were recommending that this game be canceled because of threats against school administrators and referees, and concern over the safety of the Hollywood High team at Manual Arts. Some of our football players' parents said they did not want to see their sons compete in this game, for fear of their safety. But my teammates and I made the decision that we would play--if the game went on as scheduled.

It was up to Superintendent Jack P. Crowther. He decided not to give in to what he believed to be a small, militant group. Crowther wanted to show his support and trust in the majority of the local residents around the Manual Arts football field. He ordered that the game go on, but our cheerleaders and band were not to attend the game.

Because of mistiming, our school bus arrived at Manual Arts minutes before a large contingency of police cars was due. The iron gates to Manual Arts were still chained and a large crowd of Manual Arts students was waiting for us. Our coach, Lou Birnbaum, was upset that the police were not there waiting for us.

Nevertheless, he decided that the team should immediately get off the bus and wait outside for the police, rather than appear to be worried enough to remain aboard. As we exited, a shot rang out and one of the bus windows was shattered, but no one was hurt. Except for a few unfortunate comments directed to our team, as well as one of our black teammates, there appeared to be relative tranquillity. The police arrived, the gates were opened, and we entered the football field under their escort.

It was the most hard-hitting game I had ever participated in during my high school years. Both sides were scoring touchdowns, some of which were called back. Although Hollywood High lost, 32-20, it was a remarkable competition; at our 20-year reunion, it was the only game we talked about. We learned so much from that competition.

First, the Manual Arts team was highly professional, as well as big and fast. Second, because of threats made to the Manual Arts coach that our team would be attacked on the sidelines, he approached our coach with a novel suggestion: Instead of positioning the two teams on opposite sides of the field, the Hollywood High team would be on the same sideline as Manual Arts', and if we were attacked, the Manual Arts team was instructed to come to our aid. This was how the game was played and we were never attacked. We used the honor system, ignoring each other's calls while we were side-by-side on the sidelines.

And those that wanted to see a football game--not violence--won out.

After the hard-fought game, we all shook hands, realizing that when we dedicated ourselves to a common purpose, all that mattered was playing by the rules and trying our best.

It did not matter who was white and who was black. By standing up to concerned, well-intentioned parents, and ignoring some critical civic leaders, we too as young men wanted to show that the love of the game would prevail. And it did.

Thereafter, we all went our separate ways. One of our four co-captains, Brian Goodman, became an offensive lineman for UCLA and the Houston Oilers. After I played college football at UC Riverside, I attended law school. Our end, Steve Woods, became a disk jockey for KDAY radio. Coach Birnbaum retired shortly thereafter, completing 30 years in the public school system; he has since passed away. He, like Crowther, exemplified courage and trust, showing that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, but can be interwoven under the umbrella of common purpose.

On behalf of the 1967 Hollywood High football team, I wish to salute Jack Crowther for making a decision that allowed us greater opportunity to reach our maturity.

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