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PREP EXTRA / A weekly look at the high school sports
scene in the Southland | ERIC SONDHEIMER

City Section Trying to Swear Off a Nasty Habit in Sports

September 07, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Ever since a caveman hurled a spear, missed his target and shouted an expletive, sports and profanity have been forever linked.

Drop by a three-on-three basketball game at a park. Listen to the response of a baseball player who just struck out. Eavesdrop on the halftime talk of a football coach whose team is trailing, 28-0.

You'll hear four-letter words you wouldn't want your 5-year-old to know about.

Now comes a courageous decision.

The City Section has launched a drive to remove profanity from high school sports. It might have been easier to land a man on the moon.

Barbara Fiege, City Section commissioner, is telling coaches, athletic directors, principals and students that profanity during practices and games is no longer acceptable.

During a speech last month to football coaches, Fiege said, "If we could eliminate the profanity, just think what we could do. It's time to start talking about what kind of lessons we're teaching our kids. It needs to be part of everything we do."

There won't be sanctions this season for coaches or players who use profanity, but Fiege said that day is coming.

"The bus is going with or without you," she warned.

Sylmar High's sideline could be the ultimate test case. When Coach Jeff Engilman's eyes start to bulge and his face turns bright red, words sometimes slip out that are more suitable for an R-rated movie.

Engilman knows he's one of the worst offenders and has been working to clean up his vocabulary. He even fines himself and players for profanity. It's 50 cents for every word.

"I could throw in a $10 bill," he said.

Engilman recognizes that change is coming.

"Hey, it's an emotional game and it's tough beating your head against another kid and not saying something, but you have to get used to it if that's the rule," he said.

John Aguirre, coach of defending champion Carson, said the section's policy is "a great idea that is late in coming."

Aguirre said profanity is "out of control" at some schools.

"Unfortunately, some kids think it's almost normal vocabulary to use when they are walking around on campus," Aguirre said. "So, as coaches, all of us need to buy into the idea that using that kind of language is unacceptable and realize that there is a higher standard that we need to shoot for."

Already, you can sense some coaches being more careful in what they say. When Woodland Hills Taft Coach Troy Starr saw an offensive lineman miss a block, he shouted, "You idiot!" instead of inserting a more colorful word before idiot.

One four-letter word continues to be most prevalent, and eliminating it from players' and coaches' vocabularies is no simple task.

As Drew Yellen, a Northridge sports psychologist and former Van Nuys Grant football coach, pointed out, "The F-word has more use than any other word in the language. It's an adverb, it's a noun, it's a verb, it's an adjective, it's an infinitive. It's an amazing word."

Cynics laugh at what Fiege and the City Section are trying to do, especially considering the language that can be heard on television, at the movie theater, on the Internet, on the playground.

But Fiege is serious about cracking down on profanity.

"If it's not enforced, behavior is not changed," Fiege said.

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at his e-mail address: eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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