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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Cleveland Clearing Hurdles to Success

March 21, 1998|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RESEDA — Bill Paden, track and field coach at Cleveland High, laughs about it now, but it wasn't funny in 1994.

Paden, 45, was an hour into his first meet as the Cavaliers' coach when a competitor crashed into a hurdle and broke it during a freshman-sophomore race.

That wouldn't be a big deal at most schools, but Cleveland hadn't fielded a track team during the 1993 season because it didn't have a coach and was woefully short of equipment and uniforms when Paden took over.

So when that hurdle became a casualty, Paden didn't have another fully adjustable one to replace it. Instead, he had to use a discarded hurdle no longer capable of being adjusted to the heights used in races.

"They were frozen [in place]," Paden said of the old hurdles. "But luckily, we had enough of them that we could insert them into the lanes where we needed them as the meet went along."

Fast forward to Friday's Northwest Valley Conference meet between El Camino Real and host Cleveland, where there was no shortage of hurdles and the Cavaliers were outfitted in stylish black and red uniforms.

In addition, they warmed up in T-shirts that said "TALK IS CHEAP" on the front and "DEEDS NOT WORDS! C-YA! TRACK" on the back.

"My immediate goal when I came here was to be able to put on a quality track meet," Paden said. "We didn't even have enough equipment to do that."

His next goal was to put together a quality program and he has succeeded in the speed-oriented events.

Charles Lee led Cleveland's boys' team to a sixth-place finish in the 1995 City Section championships by winning the 200 meters, placing second in the 100 and anchoring the third-place 400 relay team.

Neisha Henderson won the girls' triple jump and placed third in the long jump in the same meet.

Last year, sophomore Malinda Malone and then-senior Stacey Harris placed 1-2 in the girls' 400 in the City meet. This year, Cleveland has two of the brightest freshman performers in the City in sprinter Jason Lovell and high jumper Schquay Brignac.

Lovell clocked 49.38 seconds in the 400 to win the youth boys' division of the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La., last summer.

Brignac cleared a personal best of 5-10 in the high jump last year, a mark that would have tied her for 11th on the yearly national high school performer list.

"Having Malinda here, having Schquay here, and having Jason here is nice," Paden said.

"Having high-quality kids who say, 'I'm going to go to Cleveland,' when they have other opportunities, that makes me feel real good."

Paden will feel even better in the years ahead if he can reach his goal of developing teams that have quality performers in every event, not just some.

"I'm continuing to try to make it a first-class program," Paden said. "I'm continuing to try to make it so we are spoken of in the same breath as Birmingham and Taft and I think we are approaching that."

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