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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Open Enrollment Can Close Some Doors

July 29, 1998|Eric Sondheimer

The hand-written letter arrived last Friday.

"My name is Tony Docan. I go to Alemany High School. I am a senior next year. I have played boys' basketball at Alemany all three previous years."

Docan, a 6-foot-4 forward, is not happy with newly hired Alemany Coach Darryl McDonald and a group of transfer students that has arrived since McDonald came on last May.

"They come to my school and act like they own it. I played a few summer games with them at the LAB league. After I saw the way the players played . . . I also was treated very meanly by the coach . . . I decided this certainly was not fun, so why should I stay around."

Docan, one of three returning varsity players for Alemany, quit the basketball team three weeks ago. He said he wanted to transfer but it was too late under Southern Section rules. He said he's going to run cross-country instead.

"My senior year was supposed to be my best, most fun year. I feel I have been pushed out of my own program."

Just another victim of open enrollment.

Alemany didn't win a game in the Mission League last season. The coach resigned. The school hired McDonald, a highly respected coach for the San Fernando-based Cavs' club program. Four of his former club players decided to leave their high schools and transfer to Alemany.

McDonald has many supporters from his 15 years of coaching youth basketball. Four players leaving their high schools to transfer and play for McDonald provides a clue to their loyalty.

"I have a very good reputation for teaching kids," McDonald said.

Paul Sweeney, another of Alemany's returning varsity players, said McDonald is "a great coach" and the program is already "10 times better than it was."

Not that everything has gone smoothly this summer. An Alemany player allegedly punched a referee during a summer league game two weeks ago, but McDonald wasn't present and the player has been asked to leave school, according to Athletic Director Dudley Rooney.

Docan said he was singled out by McDonald for not clapping on the bench like the other players.

"He takes me out, he starts yelling at me, acting real mean," Docan said. "The second game was even worse. He does the same thing on the bench in front of me. I decided I can't deal with this guy."

Docan said he didn't even know the names of some of the new players on the team.

"The coach didn't go to the trouble even introducing them," he said. "I totally hate that these other players have been brought in."

So Docan quit. He's just one player. Should what he says be dismissed as just typical complaints from a senior who couldn't handle the requirements of an ambitious new coach?

"He's the only problem we've had," McDonald said. "The kids have flourished."

Robert Gebauer, vice principal at Alemany, said he is concerned with Docan quitting the team.

"I hate to hear [of] a letter like that," he said. "I would like to talk to this boy. It's like somebody being in the honors program for three years and quitting calculus."

McDonald said he met with Alemany's returning players to assure them they shouldn't feel "threatened" by the new players. He said he made every effort to keep Docan on the team.

But Docan's departure is a warning sign not just for Alemany but other schools that so willingly accept students transferring for athletic reasons.

There is a cost for winning via transfer students. Loyal senior athletes who have been involved with programs since their freshman seasons will find themselves jettisoned in the name of winning. Is that what high school sports should be about?

"As long as you have an open enrollment rule that allows free movement, those problems are going to be there," said Dean Crowley, Southern Section commissioner.

But Crowley points out, "I know schools that have turned people down because it was basically an athletic transfer."

McDonald deserves the chance to build a successful program at Alemany, but there are consequences for letting students transfer solely for athletic reasons.

Tony Docan isn't the first casualty of open enrollment. And, unfortunately, he won't be the last.

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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