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Poly's Mendoza Is Now P.E.'s Gift to Running

November 06, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

Physical education is a mandatory class for high school freshmen and sophomores in California, but the best athletes don't normally take P.E. because membership on an interscholastic team fulfills the requirement. As for the remaining students in P.E. classes, they don't exactly jump for joy when their teacher orders them to do push-ups, sit-ups or run a mile.

Velen Mendoza of Sun Valley Poly High was different.

"When my P.E. teacher told me we were going to run a mile, I was happy," she said.

All P.E. students should be rooting for Mendoza to win the City Section cross-country championship Nov. 17 at Pierce College, because at this time last year, she was one of them.

She has come from obscurity to rank among the favorites in the girls' division. She finished second last week in the Sunset Six League finals with a time of 19:38. She was 12th at the Mount San Antonio College Invitational last month. She's a junior who was running six-minute miles when she first joined Poly's track team last spring.

"It's one of the most amazing things," Coach Mario Rivera said. "She's improved in one season three or four minutes."

Let's just say Mendoza is a fast learner. She's a member of Poly's Teacher Career Academy comprised of students studying to become teachers. She has a 4.0 grade-point average. But she never was motivated to join an athletic team.

"I never really thought about it," she said.

In elementary school, she'd run past the boys in relay races. Not until her sophomore year when her P.E. teacher noticed her running skills did she decide to join a team.

"I just joined because I love running," she said. "I joined to have fun and try something new."

So what makes her a good runner?

"I'm just determined," she said. "I do get tired. It's normal, but it's a matter of not giving up."

So what happens if she wins a City title?

"I'd be so amazed," she said.

Pranks by a group of football players against a rival school are nothing new. It happens at least once a season. Appropriate punishment should be imposed. That's what happened to 10 La Puente Bishop Amat players suspended last week for their roles in being caught with bleach at the Santa Fe Springs St. Paul campus.

The more troubling question, though, was raised by Monsignor Aidan Carroll, principal at Bishop Amat. He wanted to know what his students were doing wandering around the community at 3 a.m.

"It's totally unacceptable that our parents cannot account for the whereabouts and activities of their 17-year-old sons at 3 o'clock in the morning," he said.

Carroll is right. Parents who let their children roam free in the early morning hours are asking for trouble.

Bishop Amat still was able to defeat Loyola, 20-14, last week without the 10 players. But even if the Lancers had lost, Carroll made the right call.

Principals deserve support when they make a courageous decision based on what's right and not necessarily what's best for an individual sports program.


Kevin Lovell of Manhattan Beach Mira Costa has played soccer all his life.

Last spring in history class, some of his friends who play on the football team were speculating who their kicker might be for the coming season. They didn't have one.

"OK, maybe I'll come out," Lovell told them.

Lovell, a senior, has become one of the surprise standouts in his rookie season of football. He has made 10 of 11 field goals and all 33 PATs for Mira Costa (9-0).

"It gives me a whole new outlook on college," he said. "Before I was just looking to go to college for soccer."

Lovell certainly fits the personality profile of a kicker. He loves pressure, as demonstrated by the fact he's a pole vaulter during track season.

And he has learned that kickers who weigh 135 pounds should avoid trying to make tackles after kickoffs.

"I'll slow them down and let somebody else hit them," he said.

Although friends tease him with lines such as, "Remember, you're just a soccer player," Lovell has changed his thinking.

"I love football," he said. "I wish I would have started earlier."


Sophomore tailback Anthony Dickson of Van Nuys Grant didn't play high school football last season. He wanted to play for a youth team. Coach Bill Foster would see Dickson walking around campus and wonder what could have been.

"We did everything to get him out," Foster said.

Dickson, who is 5 feet 10 and 185 pounds and runs 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, joined the team this season and has dominated the Sunset Six League. He has rushed for 1,258 yards in eight games.

"He's a talented kid," Foster said.


The football coaching staff at Westlake Village Oaks Christian (9-0-1) has been nicknamed "Space Cowboys" because many are approaching Social Security age.

Head Coach Bill Redell is 60. Bob Richards, a former Thousand Oaks head coach, is 59. Mike Maio, former Woodland Hills El Camino Real head coach, is 62. Paul Giberson and Denny Dietz are 62 and 59, respectively. Another assistant, Darryl Eisner, is 62.

"We go lawn bowling rather than play golf," Redell said.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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