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Newborn Takes High Road

VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

May 23, 2001|ERIC SONDHEIMER

How does someone who hated roller coasters as a child suddenly become enthralled with heights and twisted faces as a teenager?

Call it the curse of the pole vault.

Sophomore Josh Newborn of El Camino Real High thinks he's taking a roller coaster ride each time he launches himself from his pole. He even adds his own sound effects--screaming--after he clears the bar.

"It changes your whole perspective on what you can do with your body," Newborn said. "When you're up there, you just feel like nothing is around you. It's just you and the bar. When you're falling, it feels like you're flying. You're free falling and it's so cool."

Newborn will compete at Thursday's City track and field championships at Birmingham High, but not in the varsity division.

He has been focused on breaking the City freshman-sophomore record of 13 feet, 8 inches held by Shane Hackett of Verdugo Hills. That's all he has trained for.

"I'm very obsessed," he said.

He would have been one of the favorites to win the varsity competition and earn a spot at the state meet, but he doesn't care. He wants Hackett to be there to see his record obliterated. Newborn has gone 13-6 this season.

"If I break it, I want to watch [Hackett's reaction]," Newborn said.

Newborn, 5 feet 10 and 155 pounds, is coached by Hackett's mentor, UCLA pole vault coach Anthony Curran. Curran is such a talented teacher that he had four walk-on pole vaulters at UCLA clear 17 feet in a college meet earlier this month.

He's not allowed to comment on high school athletes because of NCAA rules, but look what he did for Hackett, who won the state championship last year at 16-4 and was a redshirt this year at UCLA.

As for Newborn, El Camino Real Coach Vic Lepisto said, "He has the potential to be one of the best. He's got speed, he's got the wild side. He kind of goes to his own drum. When he was pole vaulting last year, there were a couple times he'd go up and actually do a flip over the bar instead of feet first."

Newborn was the offensive most valuable player for El Camino Real's junior varsity football team last season as a receiver.

He has been a snowboarder and wouldn't mind skydiving.

As for roller coasters, he said, "Now I love them."

It's time for the City Section to abandon its archaic playoff selection process that no one seems to like, but everyone has to accept.

Having the eight coaches who win league championships put together two 16-team draws is an obvious conflict of interest.

The meeting always unfolds the same way. At first, the selectors try to act diligently. Then the process slowly deteriorates until it breaks down when coaches try to calculate what seeding is best for their team.

Another embarrassing playoff seeding meeting was held Monday night for baseball, only this time a record number of coaches attended to watch the proceedings. Now they know what sportswriters and other veterans have known for years--the system is a joke.

Two examples: Roosevelt, a semifinalist last year, finished second in the Eastern League and was seeded No. 15. Wilson finished second in the weaker Northern League but won the championship when Marshall had to forfeit three victories. Wilson got a No. 12 seed. Is there anyone who thinks Wilson would beat Roosevelt?.

The committee also decided that the West Valley League was the strongest in the City but chose University, runner-up in the Western League, over four-time City champion El Camino Real, fourth place in the West Valley, for the final playoff berth.

Haven't Valley teams won 27 of the last 28 City titles? Didn't El Camino Real defeat No. 2-seeded Kennedy and No. 5-seeded San Fernando in nonleague games? Isn't that enough evidence El Camino Real deserved the benefit of any doubts?

Barbara Fiege, the City Section commissioner, has done a wonderful job guiding the athletic program into the 21st century. She's cracked down on rule breakers, promoted sportsmanship and improved sites for championship games.

But Fiege needs to abolish the City's outdated playoff selection process. It's inherently biased and continually fails to produce an accurate breakdown of the top 16 teams.

Sylmar's football team has picked up a top transfer from Monroe in receiver-defensive back Brandon Browner, who averaged 23.9 yards per catch last season as a junior.

"He's for real," Coach Jeff Engilman said. . . .

Running back Tim Gregory of Hart has returned from knee surgery, and Coach Mike Herrington couldn't be more pleased with Gregory's performances in spring practice.

"He looks as fast and as quick as ever," Herrington said. "I don't think the surgery had any effect on his playing ability. I think he will be in the top two or three running backs in the area and could be the best." . . .

The pressure just went up a notch on Principals Ron Bauer of El Camino Real and Brian Bauer of Granada Hills. The father-son tandem has been put on notice that their decisions on who will be coaching baseball at their respective schools next season are being taken very seriously.

Two All-City players, pitcher Greg Acheatel of El Camino Real and infielder Ryan Braun of Granada Hills, have applied to transfer to Chatsworth under open enrollment. They are keeping their options open in case they don't like the decisions the Bauers make.

Ron Bauer fired his baseball coaching staff at midseason. Brian Bauer has not announced whether Coach Steve Thompson will return. Maybe the Bauers are waiting to consult with former Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone on replacements. . . .

Former Notre Dame and Valley College pitcher Tim DeGrasse has guided Fremont to an 11-10-2 record in his rookie season as coach.

*

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

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