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A Cheer for Family Loyalty : Teen-Ager Joined Rival Garfield High to Honor Slain Relative

October 30, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jennie Carreon, 15, should have gone to Roosevelt High School like the rest of her family. But in memory of her step-uncle Frank Villegas, Carreon switched her allegiance to Garfield.

"I want to graduate from Garfield because he never got a chance to," Carreon said.

Villegas died from gunshot wounds he received in a drive-by shooting last December. The 19-year-old senior was a saxophonist for Garfield's band.

"I was expected to go to Roosevelt," said Carreon, a sophomore cheerleader whose mother, aunts and other uncles all were Roughriders. "When I said I was going to Garfield, at first they said no," she recalled. But when they learned why she was switching sides, they approved.

Relatives don't know why Villegas went to Garfield except that "he always wanted to be different," Carreon said.

Carreon said she lacked a strong male role model after her parents divorced. She came to look up to Villegas, who encouraged her to go to school and become a cheerleader. He took her to football games and played "Stand By Me" for her on the saxophone. "I felt like I owed it to him" to graduate from his school, she said.

Still, the switch has been something of a shock to Carreon's mother, Virginia, a former captain of the Roosevelt cheerleaders team.

Before enrolling at Garfield as a sophomore last July, Carreon was debating whether to attend a private school in Massachusetts where she had obtained a scholarship. Carreon opted to stay in Los Angeles to be close to her family, but at first she didn't tell everyone of her decision.

Carreon also joined the Garfield cheerleading team. In the middle of summer, she told her mother that she was on a cheer squad, and her mother assumed it was for a club at a nearby park.

"After practice," Carreon said, "my mom asked to see a couple of my cheers. She said, 'Maybe I can help.' " Carreon stunned her mother by chanting, "GA-RF-IE-LD, GA-RF-IE-LD."

"Aren't you cheering for the wrong school?" her mother said.

"But I eventually got her support," Carreon said, "and she helps me out a lot now."

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