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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Violence by Athletes a Wake-Up Call for Parents

May 28, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

There are only a couple weeks left in the 1999-2000 high school athletic season, and everyone should be grateful.

There have been so many suspensions, arrests, fights and examples of poor sportsmanship and poor judgment that Court TV could start a new cable program devoted exclusively to covering Southern California teenage athletes who get into trouble.

There used to be a time when athletes were so excited and determined to play for a team or participate in an event that nothing else mattered. While friends went out and partied the night before, it was the disciplined, dedicated athlete who stayed home to get a good night's sleep and avoid trouble.

What athlete would dare throw away weeks, if not months, of training and preparation just to party? What parent would allow a teenage son or daughter to stay out past midnight on the eve of a competition their child has worked so hard to compete in?

Nobody can give me answers why, but it keeps happening over and over. Foolish life-changing decisions are being made and it's sickening.

Enough is enough.

The time has come for parental intervention. As Coach Darryl Stroh of Granada Hills put it, "Kids don't need another friend--they need a parent."

Somebody must inject fear into these teenage athletes, because the threat of being benched, suspended or kicked off a team doesn't seem to be acting as a deterrent to bad behavior.

Fortunately, there are some tough mothers and fathers out there who are scarier than coaches.

One player who was booted off a team for drinking faced a harsher penalty at home. His enraged father carried the teenager's beloved stereo system from his room to the driveway, picked up a baseball bat and smashed the stereo into little pieces while the stunned son looked on.

The kid probably won't sip another drink until he's 21.

It was unconventional punishment, but the message was loud and clear: Drinking and breaking rules won't be tolerated in his family.

These may be isolated incidents of misconduct compared to the vast majority of teenage athletes who follow the rules, but there's a disturbing trend of failing to consider the consequences for their actions.

"We hammer them all year round," Stroh said. "It's harder and harder because there's more and more outside influences and less and less parental involvement. I've always felt the real job we're doing [as coaches] is not so much teaching sports but the principles for later life.

"It's harder and harder to approach it that way. Everything is escalating. People from our generation can't understand it. There's a generation gap--live for today. It's hard to get them to think years down the road."

The influence of coaches is powerful, but parents have the ultimate authority over their sons and daughters.

Impose curfews, require them to take out the trash, threaten to confiscate their Rage Against the Machine CDs, make them go to Aunt Edna's house for Thanksgiving, give them a hug--do something to get their attention.

Most importantly, keep track where your son or daughter is at night. Letting a 16- or 17-year-old roam unsupervised in the early morning hours is dangerous. Has anyone noticed that many of the tragic automobile crashes we read about happen after 1 a.m.?

Parenting is the toughest job on Earth, particularly the teenage years. There are good days and bad days. Being involved is the key. Everyone must try.

*

It has been six years since Randy Wolf last pitched at Dodger Stadium as a senior for El Camino Real High in the City Championship against Chatsworth. Today, instead of facing the likes of Bryan LaCour, he'll be trying to get out Shawn Green.

"It's going to be fun," said Wolf, who is 3-3 with a 4.26 earned-run average for the Philadelphia Phillies. "It's going to be a lot different than high school."

Wolf said he doesn't remember much from his two Dodger Stadium appearances in 1993 and 1994 other than the mound was hard and he had a "numb" feeling from all the excitement.

He has been enjoying a productive second-year in the major leagues. In one game, he struck out Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals three times.

"I have a better idea what I want to do," he said. "I have a better game plan. Last year I tried to do too much. Having the experience of having ups and downs has helped me this year."

Wolf is planning to buy a house in Agoura Hills and his real estate agent is Jeff LaCour, father of former Chatsworth players Bryan and Matt LaCour. Wolf slept Friday night at his mother's home in West Hills and took the opportunity to visit his favorite L.A. eatery--In-N-Out burger.

Before Saturday's game, Wolf met with Shawn Meusborn, the 9-year-old son of Chatsworth Coach Tom Meusborn. Wolf had no expectations of changing Shawn's allegiance from Chatsworth to El Camino Real, but he hopes to make him a Phillies fan.

The elder Meusborn no longer harbors any hard feelings for Wolf, even though he cost Chatsworth two City titles.

*

In defeat on Friday, Ivan Lopez of Sylmar proved how good a pitcher he can be, holding El Camino Real hitless over six innings. There has to be a college who needs somebody with a terrific arm and who scored 1010 on the Scholastic Assessment Test. He showed great maturity afterward, keeping his head held high despite the 7-6 defeat.

"If anybody takes a chance on him, they're getting a great kid," Coach Gary Donatella said.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at his e-mail address: eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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