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Handing Off the City Section : A Host of Problems Await Fiege in New Post but Most Are Related to One--Budget Cuts

July 25, 1993|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Barbara Fiege will have plenty of responsibilities to keep her busy come Oct. 11, when she replaces Hal Harkness as director of interscholastic athletics for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the new City Section commissioner, Fiege will be responsible for administering the interscholastic athletics program for the district's 49 high schools and seven magnet high schools. As she prepares to take over from Harkness after seven years as athletic director at Belmont High, Fiege said the challenge will be maintaining a high-quality athletic program given cuts that have reduced the district's athletic budget more than 20% since 1986 and left the commissioner with no assistants other than two secretaries.

In an interview last week, Fiege outlined some of her goals and plans for when she becomes the first woman in the 60-year history of the City Section to serve as commissioner. Her new job will include coordinating and scheduling all interscholastic sports competitions, including playoffs; interpreting and annually revising the district interscholastic sports rule book, and settling any disputes that may arise.

But her most immediate concern, she said, is money.

"It's difficult to deal with the monetary problems we have because of the budget cuts," Fiege said. "However, we have gotten an offer from the Food 4 Less Corp. to help subsidize the athletics program. That seems to be one of the ways that must be pursued to bring money back into the district."

Enforcing allegations of rules violations with a one-person office is another problem that Fiege must face.

"Local administrators at the high school level have to become more accountable for their programs to help take some of the responsibility off of the athletic commissioner," she said.

"Schools should try to solve conference problems at conference meetings instead of bringing them directly to me. I want to promote the practice of coaches getting involved in running their own programs by instituting more advisory committees and sports coordinators. This should allow schools to work out their own kinks before they are brought to me."

Fiege also plans to address the issue of inconsistency in seeding procedures and playoff structures from sport to sport. "If a school feels that they are misplaced (in a league stocked with talent) they can bring it up before the rules committee. Trying to create more parity in high school sports is a goal of mine," said Fiege, who has been a long-time member of the City Interscholastic Athletic Committee and the Rules and Regulations Committee.

Belmont football Coach Robert Levy said a significant challenge for Fiege will be addressing the special concerns of each of the City Section's sports.

"Every sport has unique problems. For example, in football we need to change 'Bee' to 'frosh-soph,' " Levy said. "There needs to be a league realignment because the Southern Pacific (Conference, which includes Banning, Carson, Crenshaw and Dorsey) is overstocked with talent. And an increase in salary pay for coaches needs to be addressed."

Fiege will also shoulder the extra pressure of being the first woman to hold the position of City Section commissioner. That will undoubtedly be the least of her worries, considering the burdens that await her, but she acknowledged that she may be in the spotlight more than her predecessors.

"I don't see the fact that I am a woman as a problem, but of course there will be some people waiting to see what kind of a job a woman can do in what has been a male-dominated position," Fiege said. "Hopefully the good that will come of (being appointed commissioner) will make my situation more the norm than the exception."

Fiege's supporters said they are confident that the kind of job she will do will equal her qualifications.

"Barbara (was chosen) because she seemed to rise a notch or two above the rest of the candidates," said Dan Isaacs, manager of school operations for Los Angeles Unified schools. "We made our recommendation based on the committee's work and evaluation process, which involved a cross-section of district and community members. There were a number of qualified applicants, but Barbara seemed to have that something that put her above the rest."

Even with the support that Fiege has cultivated over 18 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the job can take its toll.

Just ask Harkness who, since 1990, has had to work through drastic cuts in the City Section's budget and staff.

"I don't think people realize how difficult it is to be in charge of 49 schools that have at least three to four sports teams," Harkness said. "And when your resources (money and manpower) are cut, it is nearly impossible."

Fiege said, "Hal did an excellent job (as commissioner) with the resources he was given during a very difficult budgetary time for the district and the state."

Despite the complications and controversies that await her as athletic commissioner, Fiege is comfortable with her decision to take office.

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