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JUST PREPS: A page dedicated to high school athletes,
their families and coaches--and to those who follow
high school sports. | THE PREPS / JIM HODGES

Kids Punished When Adults Can't Be

February 22, 1996|JIM HODGES

It's as predictable as the rain.

A kid is recruited or corners are cut to make him eligible. Grades are changed or he gets the A in athletics that takes the edge off that D in English and keeps him in the lineup.

He changes schools--if not always homes--to play for a coach with a reputation of turning out athletes who lure college recruiters, scholarships in hand.

The California Interscholastic Federation finds out, occasionally by reading a newspaper, more often from an angry voice on the telephone, for hell hath no fury like a coach scorned--or beaten--by a kid who used to be his point guard.

A principal is called, an internal investigation held and its results reported to the appropriate CIF section, which dismisses the whole thing or declares the kid ineligible and orders games he played in forfeited.

And then comes the deluge.

"Why punish all the kids because of the actions of adults?"

It rained all over City Section CIF officials after their punishment of Dorsey High's basketball program, and Southern Section officials escaped the storm when they found Inglewood High's program was not tainted by a player who may have lived outside the school district.

The CIF is like Barney Fife, a deputy sheriff with a single bullet in his pocket, often fumbled before he can get it into his gun. The organization, which governs high school athletics, deals in the abstract, enforcing rules established by principals, some of whom won't enforce those same rules in their own schools.

Kids and games are docked, and next season the coach is back for more, often lauded in a community whose citizens can't name their kid's science teacher, but who know the coach's home telephone number and elect the school board members who hire the superintendent who hires the principal.

Once, the CIF tried to get personal, telling Canyon Country Canyon High School officials that if they got Harry Welch off the football sideline, the punishment for holding an out-of-season practice would be mitigated. Welch aroused Canyon Country, which remembered his winning streaks and championships and raised enough money to get him a lawyer to file a lawsuit.

The CIF settled. Welch was last seen driving a luxury automobile, and the football program didn't miss a beat.

The CIF learned that the coach is the principal's responsibility, and that sometimes has come to mean the coach is above the law because some principals have shirked that responsibility, occasionally even aiding and abetting the violations in the name of the family unit.

We protect our own, say some principals, closing ranks. And our own goes out and gets more kids with better jump shots to win more games. If the kid is punished, get another kid.

These principals could take a lesson from their college brethren. A college coach's contract generally includes a clause concerning dismissal for cause, and chief among those causes has become violations of the NCAA rules. Generally, there is no appeal and no payoff. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

The excuse that high school coaches are part-timers, paid something less than minimum wage for hours invested in their sport, holds no water, because the coach isn't in it for money. He can make more at a gas station.

The coach has an affinity for kids and athletics, sure, and many have an an affinity for themselves, ego gratification fed by a scoreboard. Ask the man who runs the football team what he does for a living, and he won't tell you about the math classes he teaches for $40,000 a year. He'll say first, he is a coach.

It's time for principals to act as principals, to get rid of coaches who bring embarrassment to their schools and athletic programs.

And if the principals are involved, which occasionally happens, it's time for superintendents to step up and get rid of principals who allow the athletic tail to wag the academic dog.

Depending on the CIF sections to handle the problem is like asking a Boy Scout to bring peace to Bosnia.

Why punish kids for the actions of adults? Because nobody will punish the adults, that's why.

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