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COVER STORY : What Makes Sirr Parker Run? : The Locke High Senior Dodged Adversity to Become the Central City's Most Coveted Football Player

November 20, 1994|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Practice is over, the sun has set and most of the players have already gone home.

But Sirr Parker, the Locke High School football star, does more than run ordinary drills. And that may be one reason he is a running back with extraordinary skills.

He takes a football at the goal line and surveys his opposition: two players, acting as cornerbacks, stand a first down away at the 10-yard line. Two more crouch at the 20.

The object: Make it to the other end zone without being tagged by any of the four defenders.

Parker digs his right cleat into the lumpy turf, pivots quickly and heads left, already near full speed. Drawing the first two players to him, he quickly zigzags right and arches away from a hand-tag. The first two defenders are through. Parker breaks down the right sideline and reaches midfield before cutting back against the grain, sweeping past one would-be tackler. Three down, one to go. It's now a footrace, an event that the 100-meter sprint specialist rarely loses.

No contest. . .touchdown.

"They hardly ever catch me," Parker, 17, said with a smile.

Staying out of harm's way is second nature to Parker. He is as good at dodging adversity as he is at slipping tackles. Good enough to shrug off an unstable home life and the dangers of growing up amid gangs and drugs in South-Central Los Angeles to become the Central City's most highly prized football recruit.

Parker, despite his team's miserable season (an 0-9 record with two forfeits), led the city in rushing with 1,129 yards and 19 touchdowns with 19, scoring 114 points. Parker scored twice o1847618409 No wonder a score of top Division I football colleges have their eyes on Parker and are ready to help him achieve the most cherished of rewards for a high school athlete: a scholarship.

But if Parker gains a full scholarship from one of his many suitors--which include football powers USC, Notre Dame, Arizona, the University of Nebraska and UCLA--he will have beaten considerable odds to do it.

It would seem there is plenty of scholarship money to go around for star athletes in any given year: In 1991, the last year for which figures are available, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. reported that 90,000 athletes were receiving about $468 million in full and partial scholarships from more than 500 Division I and II colleges and universities.

The numbers are striking, but the reality is that competition is fierce: It is estimated that the available scholarship money is enough for only about 10% of the athletes, male and family, w1752113264 Talent is a necessity to draw interest from coaches and recruiters, but grades are essential for actually landing financial support. Poor grades can sideline the best of athletes. Good grades can give a star such as Sirr Parker an open field.

The NCAA, at the urging of some college presidents, has toughened its academic standards for scholarship eligibility in recent years. A type of sliding scale is used--a student athlete who maintained a C average in high school, a 2.0 grade-point average, would have to score a 900 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test; the better the GPA, the lower the test score can be and vice versa.

"School is the No. 1 factor why kids don't get scholarships," said Richard Estrada, who works for Para-Dies Scouting Service, an Orange County-based service that contracts with colleges who want information on high school football players.

"The city of L.A. probably has the best athletes overall in Southern California, but a lot of times nobody's pushing these kids to study and to go to school. So you get a kid with maybe a high-C average, but then you look at his SAT and, sorry, it's 600."

Parker won't have that problem. He has a 3.78 GPA and is awaiting his reults on the SAT test. Parker has helped cut the odds further by being a member of his school's student-improvement club, the Men of Locke Delegation, which awards students varying amounts of money for good grades.

Beyond academics, there are other stumbling blocks for the Central City athlete.

"Some kids see their parents once a week," Estrada said. "There are gangs and drugs. Kids have to separate themselves from that element and it is really hard. It takes a lot of willpower to do that in the city."

In fact, Parker will tell you the game has always been the easy part.

"Football is the least of my concerns," Parker said. "I use it to keep everything else together. Once the ball is in the air, I put everything else on hold. It helps me keep other things in order, release my frustrations, get away from the spotlight."

*

Still, the glare of attention is never far away from a blue-chip athlete. It follows Parker home to the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his mother in South-Central.

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