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Silence at Huskie Stadium : While Demise of Football Is Mourned at East L.A., Some Ask If Soccer Deal Played a Role

September 19, 1993|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The sound of nearly 20,000 maniacal East Los Angeles football fans at Huskie Stadium on a Friday night has been drowned out by silence. There will be no pep rallies or grudge games this fall.

East Los Angeles Community College officials eliminated the $120,000 football program from its sports curriculum in a budget-cutting move March 9. Some on the campus say that the arrival of L.A. Promotions, a private organization that brings national soccer teams together for games and tournaments, may also have played a role in football being ousted.

Six months after football was dropped, the sadness lingers.

"I took the decision as a very personal and emotional loss," Athletic Director Gilbert Rozadilla said. "I still have trouble dealing with the problem."

"It's depressing to see all my football stuff just sitting in my room," said sophomore Alex Bardowell, who played defensive tackle last year. "Many of the players split up after the program was dropped, and it was devastating because our 'family' split up."

Ron Deiste, the dean of students, said the program was cut because the school had to reduce its budget for 1993-94 by $1.3 million. "Football was cut because it was the most expensive to maintain," he said. "We didn't want anyone to lose a job, so it became a matter of cutting money instead of personnel."

L.A. Promotions signed a five-year, $1-million contract with the school, with an option for five more years. The company has renovated Huskie Stadium, which will be used for school and international tournament soccer games this fall.

At least eight area high school football games usually played at East L.A. were canceled because the school "did not want the grass to be damaged," Rozadilla said. High schools were reimbursing East L.A. for electricity used during the games but paid no other fee. They provided their own security and cleanup crews.

L.A. Promotions officials said there is no link between their arrival and football's departure.

"It is not true that we are the reason that the football program was eliminated," said Vicki Aguilar-Lara, the group's vice president. "I was told that the school had to cut either classes or the football program, and the latter was chosen because it wasn't successful or cost-effective."

It's true that the Huskies suffered through a woeful 0-10 season last year, but for many, a won-loss record cannot measure the success of the program.

"ELAC services over 30 high schools in the central and East Los Angeles area, and since this is the only junior college that offers football, we attracted a lot of kids who may not have gone to school otherwise," Rozadilla said. "For a lot of kids, football is a way out. Now what do kids in this area have? Many of them can't afford to commute to other junior colleges."

No one felt the brunt of the decision more than the former coaches and players.

Padilla has coached at East L.A. in some capacity since 1970, serving as the baseball coach for three years, assistant football coach for seven and head football coach for 11.

Padilla, who is now an assistant football coach at Roosevelt and teaches physical education at East L.A., still remembers the day he had hoped would never come.

"I can't forget how disappointed my coaching staff was when I encouraged them to go and look for a job elsewhere," Padilla said. Staff members, all of whom coached football at East L.A. in their spare time, are not coaching football this year.

Former defensive coordinator Ray Rodriguez continues to teach at Bell, backfield coach Richard Morris teaches at Garfield and offensive coordinator Armando Gonzales still teaches at Franklin.

Some of the former players haven't been as fortunate.

Nineteen-year-old Bardowell, whose loyalty and affinity keeps him at East L.A., is majoring in administration of justice.

"For those of us who wanted to go higher (to the university level), we may not get the opportunity," Bardowell said. "I shouldn't have to go anywhere else, because this is my home, and besides, I don't like any other program."

Bardowell has been relegated to reliving past glory in the weight room with his friend and former teammate Robert Darling, a former defensive lineman.

"Alex and I hang around and talk about the things we used to do on the field," Darling said. "This entire situation is aggravating, frustrating and stupid."

Some of their former teammates play at several junior colleges that have benefited from East L.A.'s actions. Glendale received defensive back Frank Nava, wide receiver Ricky Miller and running back Gilbert Marrero. Among others, wide receiver Rick O'Campo is at Rio Hondo, running back Gilbert Rodriguez is at Chaffey, and wide receiver McKinley Travis plays for Harbor.

"We go and watch some of our buddies and cheer them on," Bardowell said.

East L.A.'s football program also was cut in 1986 for budgetary reasons, but was resurrected two years later when Arthur Avila, then the school's president, allocated funds from the Los Angeles Community College District, according to Ed T. Mitchell, dean of academics.

Plans are in the works to resurrect the football program again via a fund-raiser that will supplement the athletic program. School officials and alumni will meet this fall to discuss that possibility.

Former Los Angeles Raiders Ben Davidson and Clarence Davis, who both graduated from East L.A., will be among those spearheading the effort to bring back Huskie football.

"The entire East Los Angeles community is getting shafted," Davis said. "Something has to be done."

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