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Resounding Shot : Coach and Brother of Alleged Gunman Wonder If They Could Have Prevented Tragedy


Mike Ono stays late some days in his office at Long Beach Jordan High enjoying the quiet of a deserted school and an empty locker room.

He has always enjoyed that quiet time, but since the night of Oct. 2, it has been disrupted by phone calls from former players and visits from fellow coaches and teachers. On Oct. 2, Derald Givens, 17, a senior on the football team, allegedly shot and killed Earoll Thomas, 18, and seriously wounded 18-year-old Costromas Abercrombie during a game at St. Bernard in Playa del Rey.

They want to know if Ono, and Derald's twin, Gerald, who is also on the team, are coping.

Ono's answer: "Some days."

Since that night, there have been hard days for Ono and Gerald Givens, a defensive back at Jordan, which plays Compton tonight in its final regular-season game. Hard days because both Gerald and Ono believe that, perhaps, they could have prevented the tragedy at St. Bernard.


For Ono, the events of Oct. 2 are somewhat mysterious, but to police they have become very clear. Derald Givens, who had been injured the week before and did not suit up for the game, allegedly confronted Thomas and Abercrombie as they were driving from the parking lot just before the end of the game. They argued, and when the victims got out of the car, Derald Givens allegedly shot them in the head.

Thomas died at the scene. Abercrombie was sent to UCLA Medical Center. He was released a few days later and is in good condition, according to George Swade, football coach at Harbor College, where Abercrombie played.

Ono is not questioning the police; he does not say that Derald Givens could not have committed the crime. He says only one thing: "I think some days, maybe, I could have stopped it."

Derald Givens told Ono that Friday he was going to go with his father, Benny, to the game. Team policy is that any player representing the school must go on the bus with the team. Ono made an exception.

"He told me he was going to meet his father in front of the school at 2:45," Ono said. "He said they were going to go out to dinner and then to the game. How can I say no, a player cannot go with his father?"

Police say Benny did go to the game, and both sons confirmed that when Ono asked them at halftime, but according to LAPD Det. Joe Lumbreras, Derald did not go with his father.

While most of the school's faculty have supported Ono's decision, some have questioned it.

"There's a bar in Lakewood, Glory Days," Ono said. "It is a place where some old coaches go and talk about the team. I have heard what they are saying, that a good coach would have had Derald on the bus. That I can't control my kids. I have just been sick thinking about it. I know if I just could have. . . .

"I think sometimes that if I would have grabbed him, if I would have dragged him on that bus with the team after the game, then none of this would have happened. I look at it like that sometimes and think maybe I am not doing it right, and it hurts."

Ono had been tugging at Derald for a long time. In September, senior players voted to see if Derald should be dismissed from the team for missing too many practices. Ono stood in the Jordan locker room, waiting for the vote, hoping they would give Derald another chance.

"I know he needed this; he needed to be on the team, the players knew he was somebody who needed football," Ono said. "I just thought if we kept at him that he might make it through school and then maybe to a junior college. And then, who knows?"

The team gave Derald another chance, and the defensive back started to show up more at practice. He kept telling Ono he was going to get his grades in order, to try to graduate, but then came the night of Oct. 2.

"I have thought that I failed as a coach," Ono said.


They were born only a few minutes apart, but Gerald has always been the biggest of brothers. Also, Derald's actions, which have got him into trouble with the law before, have forced Gerald to be the responsible one.

"I know they are twins, and you can see they are brothers, but they are different," said Travon Grant, a senior defensive end. "They are different in every way."

Gerald has more facial hair, a more serious look and a small scar on his forehead. "I look like a man," Gerald said. "Derald, he looks like a teenager, like a boy."

"[Gerald] walks around campus sometimes, with his head down, not talking to anyone, off to himself," tailback Raheem Elliott said. "I know he is hurting, but he is trying to get through it, to focus on football and school, and his life."

Said Ono: "I never really sat down with Gerald after the incident. He is a tough kid and has been trying to stay focused on school and the team, but I know this has been hard on him."

Ono thinks Gerald has a future playing college football. "He has the best attitude, is quiet on the field and works hard," he said. "I have no doubt he will go as far as he can."

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