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New Fad Leaves an Impression

January 07, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER | Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422

When Chatsworth High basketball Coach Fluke Fluker was 19 and a sergeant in the Marine Corps, he decided it was time to take the plunge into adulthood.

"I felt if I'm going to put my life on the line, I'm mature enough to decide about a tattoo," he said.

He got a rose ingrained on his right arm. "And I've never regretted it," he said.

That doesn't mean he's recommending tattoos for his own players.

"I think they should think long and hard before they put something on their body for the rest of their life," he said.

Tattoos are the latest fad of the 1990s for high school athletes. First there was pierced ears, then bleached hair and now tattoos.

What a change. Tattoos used to be for bikers, sailors and Satan worshipers. Not anymore.

Whether it's Dennis Rodman or Shaquille O'Neal, a rock star or movie star, tattoos are showing up in growing numbers on the bodies of supposed role models.

"They're wearing them like billboards," Fluker observed.

It should come as no surprise that young people are copying what they see on TV.

If UCLA freshman guard Earl Watson can have a tattoo, what's wrong with a high school athlete getting one?

Section 653 of the California State Penal Code prohibits the tattooing of anyone under the age of 18. It's a misdemeanor for the person doing the tattoo. But tattoos keep appearing.

"It's a sign of the times," said Dean Crowley, commissioner of the Southern Section. "It started at the top and moved down to high school. And it's not only boys. It's girls, too. I saw girls at the state basketball tournament last year with tattoos."

There's nothing evil or particularly wrong about tattoos. It's just that coaches usually shake their heads in disgust.

"What do you want me to do--scratch it off?" Grant Coach Howard Levine said when asked about the tattoo on the arm of sophomore guard Mike Yildiz.

"I approved the pain he got getting it," Montclair Prep Coach Howard Abrams joked when discussing the tattoo of senior guard Kevin Bentley.

No less than running back Justin Fargas of Notre Dame got a tattoo last month, producing a "No comment" response from Knight football Coach Kevin Rooney.

Said Notre Dame assistant coach Jeff Kraemer: "All I can say is the members of the coaching staff won't be getting tattoos. The wives won't allow us."

Usually, it's the reaction of parents more than coaches that athletes fear most.

Michael Page of San Fernando said he got a tattoo of a player dunking because, "I'm a 100% basketball player." And what did his parents think?

"They got mad at first, then got over it," he said.

Fargas' father, Antonio, has a tattoo with the initials of his two sons. But he wanted to make sure Justin knew the ramifications of having a tattoo.

"I said, 'Wait a while,' because it's sort of a lifetime commitment you make," Antonio said. "He decided he wanted to put his initial and best friend's initial on his arm in a tasteful way, so I supported it."

Said Justin: "I knew it would be something I wouldn't be ashamed of. I know when I have kids and they see it, it will still be something special."

Fluker suggests that young people be forced to wear some kind of drawing for several months before pursuing a permanent tattoo.

"It's a fashion statement in the '90s," Fluker said. "But it's a fashion statement that will last them a lifetime."

Whether or not coaches like tattoos, they're beginning to accept them. Just look at Birmingham Coach Al Bennett.

Two seasons ago, he refused to let one of his players, Adam Kopulsky, participate on the basketball team because he dyed his hair pink. Now Kopulsky is a team captain. Is Bennett getting soft with age?

"I draw the line at the Constitution of the United States," he said. "I think you just have to go with [tattoos]. It's the fad now. My son has tattoos. Of course, he's 26."

Simi Valley Coach Dean Bradshaw proudly boasts, "Have you ever seen a Pioneer with a tattoo?"

No, but ex-Simi Valley point guard Ronnie Noel, a freshman at Valley College, immediately got a tattoo after he left Simi Valley.

"No one's ever had a tattoo [at Simi Valley] and I didn't want to be the first," Noel said. "I definitely waited until after [I left]."

Bradshaw is holding the line and holding his breath.

"Now they'll all show up with tattoos," he said.

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