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PREP EXTRA | ERIC SONDHEIMER

If It's Wrong, Artesia Should Get No Mercy

March 23, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Sock it to 'em.

That's what deserves to happen to the Lakewood Artesia High basketball program if allegations prove true that two of its top players, Jack Martinez from the Dominican Republic and Jon Stefansson from Iceland, held student visas with false information that would make their playing status illegal.

Artesia, alma mater of Ed and Charles O'Bannon and Jason Kapono, could be stripped of its Southern Section Division II-A championship and forced to forfeit every game Martinez and Stefansson played in this past season. And that's just for starters.

More punishment could be meted out depending on the outcome of an ABC Unified School District--and possible Southern Section--investigation.

Kudos to the Long Beach Press-Telegram for revealing last week in an investigative report that the 6-foot-8 Martinez, listed as a junior, was allegedly in his fifth year of high school after starting school in the Dominican Republic in 1995. That would mean his athletic eligibility ended last season.

Why didn't Artesia administrators discover such pertinent information when Martinez arrived in 1997? And how did Martinez and Stefansson get away with listing Mater Dei as their high school on an Immigration and Naturalization Service form, as reported by the Press-Telegram?

Too many times, when "big name" transfers check into a school, there's a wink, a cursory check and no further investigation. It's as if Inspector Gadget were put in charge when Lt. Columbo was needed.

Maybe times are changing. The ABC district has chosen Thomas Byrnes, a former CIF and Southern Section commissioner, to be part of a three-man independent investigative team looking into the Artesia allegations. The Southern Section is awaiting the district's report before deciding if action is warranted. The INS also is investigating.

While Martinez's eligibility will be the focus of the investigation, scrutiny also needs to be given to the fact over the last two seasons, eight of the 12 players on Artesia's varsity roster allegedly lived outside Artesia's district or transferred to the school from another high school. And what about Artesia having four foreign-born players on its roster this season?

Adding to the intrigue is that last week, soon after the Press-Telegram report appeared, a brick was thrown through the living room window of Bill Alford, a critic of Artesia's program who's had two sons play for the Pioneers.

Artesia's program is much admired for the championships it has won and the players it has sent on to college, but if rules have been ignored or broken, punishment should be swift and severe.

High school basketball has reached a dubious stage--it has become the dirtiest, most corrupt sport in the prep ranks.

The pressure to win combined with the intense competition to obtain a college scholarship has created an ugly scene that's played out in spring and summer leagues, where everyone, from players to coaches to agents to parents, is searching for the best environment to succeed. It's anything goes, and the weak of heart don't survive.

High school basketball is a big business for some, with television, shoe contracts and promises of scholarships all part of the equation.

What's happening at Artesia is only the tip of a high school iceberg. It's a mess that needs to be cleaned up, or there will be other Titanic crashes.

*

Eric Sondheimer is the local columnist for The Times' San Fernando Valley/Ventura County edition. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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