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High Schools | CITY SECTION FOOTBALL REPORT

Lombardo's Decision Is Birmingham's Gain

October 02, 2002|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ryan Lombardo called it one of the toughest decisions he has ever had to make. It was all the more difficult because he saw his older brother, Chris, have a bad experience after making a similar choice three years ago.

It's the decision to transfer to another school.

Thousands of students change schools each year for myriad reasons, including athletics. The Times reported in June that the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section received 7,331 athletic transfer requests for this fall, more than double the number who transferred between the beginning of the 1999 school year and Jan. 1, 2002.

Ryan Lombardo left Newbury Park in February to spend his senior year at Lake Balboa Birmingham. As quarterback, he has completed 60% of his passes for 825 yards in leading the Patriots to a 2-1 record entering Friday night's intersectional home game against Newhall Hart.

Lombardo didn't make the move because he wasn't getting playing time. On the contrary, he was Newbury Park's starting quarterback for two years and threw for 1,937 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He transferred because his family moved from Camarillo to Reseda.

But that didn't make his decision any easier.

"I didn't really want to leave," Lombardo said. "It's hard to go to a new school. You have to get used to being around new people, people who are different than you."

Newbury Park Coach George Hurley figured that with an experienced quarterback returning, his team could improve on its 2-8 record. While Hurley said he has no hard feelings about Lombardo's transfer, he only wishes there had been more communication.

"He just kind of disappeared," Hurley said. "I hadn't seen him in a week and I went to go look for him. There wasn't any indication that he was going to transfer. It was like he left in the middle of the night."

Lombardo said he had reason to stay quiet. When his brother, who had been a two-year starting quarterback at Ventura St. Bonaventure, transferred to Newbury Park in 1999, there were such hard feelings that the Oxnard Unified School District, in which the family once resided, initially refused to approve the transfer, then relented.

"People found out about that and it was a bad situation," Ryan said. "Some people [vandalized] his locker at school. I thought it was better to keep it to myself."

Birmingham Coach Ed Croson said no action should be taken against a student who wants to change schools, even if it's only for athletics.

"Obviously, we'd love to get all the kids in as ninth-graders," Croson said. "But you know, freedom of choice is the American way. Kids deserve the right to choose where they want to go to school and parents deserve the right to choose where they want their kids to go, whether they're a math student or a football player.

"We've had plenty of kids leave our program. I always say to them, 'If you think it's better for you over there, then God bless you.' "

Croson said Lombardo has been a model player and is improving each week.

"We have not done a great job of protecting him and he's had a lot of hurried throws," Croson said. "But he still has been comfortable back there.... He's been a quarterback since he was a little kid. Ryan has adapted well. He's very bright and experienced."

Lombardo has been looking forward to Friday's game for months. He considers Hart one of the preeminent programs in Southern California, and said a victory would be a major boost to Birmingham's City title aspirations.

"If we can beat Hart, I think we can beat anybody," he said. "This game has a lot to do with the rest of our season."

*

Senior running back Jody Adewale has been the focal point of Roosevelt's prolific wing-T offense since last season, but Rough Rider opponents must prepare for another threat.

Zach Owens, a senior transfer from Manual Arts, is coming off a 23-carry, 303-yard performance in a 50-23 victory over Belmont. Owens has gained 625 yards in three games and is averaging 12.3 yards per carry.

"It definitely was a breakout game for him," Roosevelt Coach Jose Casagran said. "He's good and he's learning to follow his blocks more and more."

Roosevelt gained 556 yards on the ground last week, and Casagran said his team has not rushed for fewer than 400 in any game. Adewale, who had flu and played only 1 1/2 quarters last week, has 467 yards after rushing for 1,636 last season.

The Rough Riders will get a stiff test Friday, when they play host to Dorsey, the defending City Section champion. The last two meetings have been close, with the Dons winning, 38-32, in 1999 and 12-7 the next year.

"I think if we're healthy, we can play with them just like we have in the past," Casagran said. "But we got nicked up a lot last week."

*

It was reported here a week ago that South Gate received portable bleachers through the help of the city's former mayor, Henry Gonzalez. But according to South Gate Principal Tony Sandoval, the person who really should receive the credit is Len Page, a director of maintenance and operations for the L.A. Unified School District.

Playing their first home game of the season on Friday night, South Gate defeated Locke, 23-7.

*

City top 10: 1. Taft (3-0); 2. Fremont (3-0); 3. Dorsey (1-2); 4. Birmingham (2-1); 5. Banning (2-1); 6. Carson (2-1); 7. Crenshaw (2-1); 8. Roosevelt (3-0); 9. Venice (2-1); 10. Gardena (2-1).

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