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Valley/Ventura County Sports | Eric Sondheimer

Lopez's High-Flying Act Plays Indoor, Outdoor

April 25, 1999|Eric Sondheimer

In the middle of a junior varsity basketball game last February, Fernando Lopez of Taft High startled himself when he nearly hit his head on the rim.

"That's when I knew I was going to have a good high jump year because I had never gotten that high before," he said.

The winner of Taft's "Dunkin' Donut" award as the best dunker in the basketball program, Lopez is using his leaping ability to soar to record heights in the high jump.

Lopez has cleared 6 feet 8, tying a 13-year-old school record held by Keith Franklin.

He has won invitationals at Alemany and Pasadena, and placed second at Arcadia and Eagle Rock.

"He's jumping 11 inches over his head," Coach Mel Hein of Tart said of the 5-9, 150-pound junior.

Hein is so impressed with Lopez that he predicts 7 feet is within reach.

"I told him to take a roll of athletic tape and stretch it around his room at 7 feet and use it as motivation to get used to what 7 feet looks like," Hein said.

Those who recognize Lopez walking around campus might find it hard to believe someone so small can defy gravity and glide through the air like he does. But he has been turning heads since junior high when he dunked on the outside basketball courts at lunch.

"They never saw a Mexican who could jump that high," he said.

He started high jumping as a freshman and never went higher than 6 feet until he broke through in the Northwest Valley Conference championships last year with an leap of 6-5.

Lopez was convinced he would win the City freshman-sophomore championship when his love for dunking resulted in a painful ankle injury.

"I was playing basketball in the backyard," he said. "I was going to dunk on my dad. I came down right on my ankle."

Lopez could hardly jump, let alone walk. But he made it onto the field and cleared 5-6 to tie for fifth and help Taft win the City freshman-sophomore championship.

"It was a masterful performance because he was hopping on one leg," Hein said.

Lopez was teased last year because he didn't spend much time at track practice, preferring pickup basketball games instead. Some still wonder about his practice routine, but Lopez insists he has a "secret" workout he does at home.

"It's a big part of me being good," he said.

No, he doesn't dunk 10 times on his outside court to strengthen his calves.

Jamaal Crawford, a Taft triple jumper and Lopez's best friend, said Lopez puts on special strength shoes and runs 50-yard dashes on a path at his condo complex to improve his speed and strength.

"He works real hard," Crawford said.

Not that Crawford is willing to praise Lopez too much, for the two have an intense competition among themselves.

"He's never dunked on me because I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of beating me in something," Crawford said.

Lopez counters he'd be "dunking on everybody if I was 6-4 or 6-5."

Does that include Michael Jordan?

"I'd probably dunk on him once," Lopez said.

Basketball Coach Mark Drucker has concluded, "Whatever jumping muscles there are, he's got them."

*

With Amgen Inc. and Dole Foods Co. adding employees in Westlake Village, the athletic teams at Westlake are beginning to prosper through new families moving into the area. A 6-3 sophomore wide receiver from Texas is scheduled to arrive at Westlake this summer.

"He passes the eyeball test," Coach Jim Benkert of Westlake said of the player who visited the campus. . . .

Tight end Mike Seidman of Westlake won't get to wear No. 81 at UCLA in the fall. It's already taken by tight end Bryan Fletcher. But Bruin coaches have been kind enough to give Seidman No. 18, worn by quarterback Cade McNown the last four seasons. . . .

Coach Kevin Kanemura of Van Nuys is the leading candidate to replace Tim Guy as boys' basketball coach at Kennedy. Kanemura is a Kennedy graduate who once served as a Cougar assistant. . . .

Sophomore Cecil Brown of Taft, a 6-3 forward, scored 45 points on Monday night in a spring basketball league game at Cleveland. . . .

Taft's football team will be picking up the best quarterback from the Valley Youth Conference midget division, Clarence Simpson. Chatsworth is landing an outstanding linebacker, freshman Jason Moss. . . .

How is quarterback Kyle Boller of Hart preparing for his freshman season at California? He's umpiring softball games at the William S. Hart Pony complex.

"I'm making good money," he said.

Boller, who has grown to 6-4 and is featured in the May 3 edition of ESPN magazine, visited spring practice at California last week. He has a playbook to study. Is he good enough to start as a freshman?

"I think I can do it as long as I work hard," he said.

One day, there's going to be two former Hart quarterbacks as first-round NFL draft picks--David Neill of Nevada and Boller. . . .

First baseman Josh Persell, a walk-on at USC from Montclair Prep, has started 14 games and is batting .327. Jason Lane, nephew of Montclair Prep athletic director Greg Reece, leads the Trojans with a .364 average. . . .

Outfielder Michael Falco of Agoura is on a mean hitting streak. Before a game Friday against Simi Valley, he had 13 hits in his last 17 at-bats, including eight home runs and 21 runs batted in.

Said Royal pitcher Scott Rice: "Falco is an animal. That guy is great." . . .

Brandon Murphy, who pitched last season at North Hollywood, is 5-0 for Highland, including a 2-0 victory over Lancaster on Friday. Murphy struck out 11, walked none and allowed three hits.

"He's been super," said Coach Mike Van Cheri of Highland.

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

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