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Bell Wrestles Some Respect from Valley Schools

January 16, 1994|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The house that Frank O'Connor has built at Bell High School has taken only three seasons to complete. O'Connor started the Eagles' wrestling program in 1990, and three years and three Central League titles later, Bell has yet another sports champion.

Last year, Bell won its first City Section title, breaking the Valley schools' nine-year stranglehold. Bell posted a tournament-best 195 points against El Camino Real (which won City titles in 1986, '88, '89, '90 and '92), San Fernando (1985, '87 and '91), Chatsworth and Monroe.

"This was our goal: to get to the City Section championships in three years," said O'Connor, who has watched Bell soar since its inception to an impressive 50-14 record, including 11 tournament victories.

"I think it was important for us to win it, because the Valley schools have a somewhat superior attitude when it comes to competing against City schools."

This year's 14-4 team returns four of the six individual City champions from last year's squad: Jose Gonzales, who won at 103 pounds, Charles Zabala at 112, Frank Ordorica at 160 and Juan Alcala at 171.

"I may coach 25 more years and never have another group like this," O'Connor said. "They're something special."

Seniors Zabala, 18, and Ordorica, 17, are perhaps the team's most talented wrestlers. Zabala wrestled in the 112-pound class last year, compiling a 25-5 record.

Zabala, who also played tailback on the Bee football team, said the quickness that enabled him to elude defenders on the field also helps him pin opponents on the mat. "My biggest asset is my quickness, because I depend on it to do takedowns and outmaneuver my opponents," he said.

"I am also working out with weights to improve my strength," said Zabala, who has put on weight to move up to the 119-pound class this year. His record is 20-3 for the season.

"Charles is a gifted athlete," O'Connor said. "He was a key player on the football team, set a record on the track team and is a vital member of this team."

Ordorica, who amassed a 26-4 record last year in the 160-pound class, is one of four wrestlers--Ramses Ochoa, Jesus Orozco and Adolfo Padilla are the others--who have been on the team since its inception.

"Ever since the ninth grade, Frank has worked on his body and technique," O'Connor said. "His biggest assets are his determination, endurance and drive to win." Ordorica, 19-3 on the season, has moved up to the 171-pound class.

Ordorica's off-season schedule, like most of his teammates, includes weightlifting and running.

But he adds a mental element.

"The physical training is important, but it's also important to think about wrestling," Ordorica said. "Whatever I do (during the off-season), I concentrate on wrestling."

Considering Zabala's and Ordorica's dedication to the sport, it is not surprising that neither has had problems making weight.

"I was always smaller, so I had no need to diet," Zabala said.

"I eat whatever I want," Ordorica said. "I just work out and run to keep my weight down."

Their success has earned them respect from their peers and coaches.

An All-Eastern League linebacker in football, Ochoa has played three years of varsity football and four years of varsity wrestling.

"Football players are always recognized for being tough," O'Connor said. "And since he is a member of both the football and wrestling teams, he adds legitimacy to our program because we gain recognition for having tough players. Ramses is the toughest guy at Bell High School."

Ochoa won a City championship as a sophomore at 140 pounds but lost, 6-5, in last year's finals to Rafael Palacios of Canoga Park, who was the defending 135-pound City champion and voted the tournament's outstanding wrestler.

Ochoa, 16-5 on the season, is aware of his role.

"I bring confidence to the team," he said. "Football helps to make me more aggressive and gives me the heart to win."

O'Connor accounts the winning tradition at Bell High for his team's quick rise to prominence.

"The school was able to take on another sport and all the teams are successful," O'Connor said. "(The competitive) nature of the school influenced these kids."

The only problem that Bell has encountered is a lack of local competition. Football rivals such as Garfield, South Gate, Roosevelt and Huntington Park do not have wrestling programs.

Bell's Central League opponents in the City Section include Fremont, Monroe, Granada Hills and Gardena.

But the Eagles' main competition remains Canoga Park and San Fernando.

"There is a shortage of wrestling coaches in our area, but I don't know why, because wrestling is a popular sport," O'Connor said. "We need coaches and competition."

Wherever Bell wrestles, competition is hard to come by.

On Jan. 8, Bell took first place in the 18-team Santa Fe High Tournament.

Zabala and Ordorica both finished second in individual competition, and Orozco, who is 21-2, took first place at 189 pounds.

That same day, Bell finished third in Sierra Vista's 32-team frosh-soph tournament.

Said O'Connor: "We don't rebuild, we reload."

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