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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

It's Not Ancient, but This Is History

August 23, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Greetings from the land of the Koran, where tourists are promised souvenirs "cheaper than cheap," where Turkish coffee is more jolting than Turkish beer and where the most prized possession for a young boy after sandals is a Shaquille O'Neal jersey.

After two weeks exploring the most extensive ruins this side of the Roman Empire, after learning about Zeus and Apollo and King Midas, after taking a dip in a refreshing thermal pool and watching an unforgettable sunset on the Mediterranean, it's time to board a plane back to Los Angeles and prepare for my 24th season covering high school football.

It's going to take more than 10 hours before the plane's wheels touch down at LAX, so it's a good time to close my eyes and think about the special moments and athletes of the past. The images are becoming clear:

* It's 1977. Granada Hills and Palisades are in overtime in the City playoffs. It's John Elway quarterbacking against Jay Schroeder. I'm 19 years old and wondering if sportswriting gets any better than this. Who knew these were two future Super Bowl quarterbacks? Elway delivers victory with a 28-yard pass to Scott Marshall on the next-to-last play of a thrilling eight-play California tiebreaker.

* It's 1981. Never before and never since has there been a meaner, tougher, stronger, more aggressive offensive lineman than Jeff Bregel of Kennedy. You'd feel safe walking down any street with Bregel at your side. He goes on to play for USC and the San Francisco 49ers.

* It's 1982. An unknown sophomore coach at Canyon, Harry Welch, has been promoted to varsity coach. It launches the era of Cowboy football. Canyon puts together a 46-game win streak from 1983-86 and wins three Southern Section championships. Offensive linemen Brent Parkinson and linebacker Randy Austin become the best in the region because they play the game as if they are real cowboys.

* It's 1986. College of the Canyons is filled with a crowd estimated at 16,000 for the opening game of the season, Canyon and quarterback Ken Sollom taking on Hart and quarterback Jim Bonds. Canyon wins, 42-32. Bonds goes on to UCLA, then a coaching career. Sollom goes on to Michigan and becomes an advertising executive.

* It's 1986 again. The most amazing thing has happened. Crespi becomes the first Valley team to win the Division I championship behind a true phenom, sophomore running back Russell White. People are already giving him the Heisman Trophy for 1991.

* It's 1987. The hottest ticket in Los Angeles is for a game at Birmingham High between Crespi and Loyola. There are 11,207 people packed together to see if the Cubs can stop White. Two sons of former NFL stars, Matt Butkus and Jimmy Klein, help hold White to 28 yards in 14 carries in Loyola's 15-8 victory.

* It's 1987 again. Tears of victory are streaming down the faces of Granada Hills players after their shocking upset of Carson in the City Championship game. Quick, someone needs to take a photo. Even Coach Darryl Stroh is smiling.

* It's 1989. An historic changing of the guard is taking place. A group of young, talented coaches have been hired for their first varsity jobs. Over the next decade, Mike Herrington of Hart, Jim Benkert of Westlake, George Hurley of Newbury Park and Tim Lins of Crespi will set the standard for coaching excellence.

* It's 1992. Tyrone Crenshaw of Sylmar is running wild, earning the nickname Touchdown Ty. The Spartans finish 13-0 and win the City Championship with a 17-0 victory over Carson. For once, Coach Jeff Engilman is rendered speechless after being drenched with Gatorade.

* It's 1993. Has there ever been a more dominant team than Newbury Park? Led by quarterback Keith Smith, the Panthers finish 14-0 and outscore the opposition, 555-165. Bring on the 49ers.

* It's 1994. Notre Dame wins its first section football championship in the 47-year school history with a 27-20 win over Ayala. It's a triumph for Coach Kevin Rooney, who some alumni wanted fired in the early 1980s when the Knights weren't winning enough games.

* It's 1997. Running back Justin Fargas of Notre Dame ends his prep career with 6,293 yards rushing and 76 touchdowns. His speed, power and work ethic are astonishing.

* It's 1998. For more than 20 years, I've been searching for the next Elway. Kyle Boller of Hart comes closer than anyone. He passes for a state-record 4,841 yards and 59 touchdowns.

Oops, the stewardess announces we'll be landing shortly. It's time to fasten the seat belt and return to reality.

Other sportswriters have come and gone, deciding college or professional sports offered a more compelling challenge.

But something keeps luring me back to the prep ranks. Maybe it's the excitement of the never-ending search to discover the next great athlete. Maybe it's the fun of seeing teenage athletes do battle before they've been influenced by money or media hype. Maybe it's the satisfaction of telling inspirational tales of athletes succeeding on and off the field.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to be home and can't wait for the 2000 football season to begin.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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