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A Day Off Knocks Teams Out of Sync

October 23, 2002|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

At least a couple of weeks every month, Ed Lalau conducts his daily football practices until the sun sets at Wilmington Banning High.

Lalau isn't a drill sergeant -- a lot of the time is spent walking through plays and discussing opponent tendencies -- but the three- and sometimes four-hour practices are out of necessity.

On two Tuesdays every month, the third-year coach attends mandatory professional development meetings with the rest of Banning's faculty and cannot meet with his players.

On these days, staffs at schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District get together after a minimum-day teaching schedule, to plan strategies, share techniques and discuss programs aimed to improve student performance in the classroom.

The 16 days were negotiated in the current contract between the district and United Teachers-Los Angeles and are part of a mandate by Superintendent Roy Romer to improve test scores.

No after-school extracurricular activities are allowed on these days, including football practice.

But missing a Tuesday afternoon of practice doesn't help coaches prepare their football teams to play on Friday.

"On Monday, we go through conditioning and explaining what the opponent will do," Lalau said. "But [during weeks when there are development meetings] we have to go through the game plan, through conditioning and get them ready to play.

"Then they have a day off. These are kids. If it's not consistent and in their face each day, they come back on Wednesday forgetting a lot of stuff. We find ourselves teaching everything again."

From a scholastic standpoint, the development meetings have proven beneficial.

According to the Academic Performance Index report released last week, of the 44 LAUSD high schools that reported their results to the California Dept. of Education, 29 showed improvement this year over last.

The API scores are based on results from the Stanford 9 exam and other standardized tests linked to new academic standards in English-language arts.

Merle Price, the deputy superintendent of instructional services, said the development meetings are "critical when we have 70% of our students that cannot pass the high school exit exam."

The exit exam is a statewide test that will be mandatory for graduation beginning with the Class of 2004.

Jefferson football Coach Doi Johnson, who is president of the L.A. Football Coaches Assn., understands the need for such meetings, but also knows what missing a day of practice means.

"We tried to fight it," Johnson said of the restriction against practicing on development days. "As an association, we definitely miss that day of extra preparation.

"In our sport, more than any other, it is vital that our kids are prepared as much as they can be, mentally and physically. To say that it's a huge issue is really an understatement."

The remaining staff development days during the football season are Nov. 5 and 19 and Dec. 3 and 10. An exception is being made to allow practices on Nov. 19, because the opening of the City playoffs begin only two days later. The December dates are during the weeks of the semifinal and championship games.

Last week, Bill Coan had only two days to prepare his Chatsworth team for its game Thursday against Woodland Hills Taft, which also had limited preparation time but is No. 6 in The Times' rankings.

Coan, whose team lost, 41-0, in a regionally televised matchup, said he tried, unsuccessfully, to get district officials to waive the rule.

"We were told flat-out no by the district," he said. "Even though we tried to highlight two City schools [on TV], even though we're one of the most high-profile activities for the school district, we still have things taken away from us."

City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege said the ruling, mandated by the district, went into effect in October of the 2001-02 school year. "Is it ideal? Absolutely not," Fiege said. "But when we're talking about a district whose primary objective is instruction and teaching, we need to be able to work within that."

Price, a former Palisades High principal, said the main reason teams are not allowed to meet on these days is the inequity involved in transportation.

"There are schools where no kids were bussed in," he said. "But at a school such as Taft or Granada Hills, half or two-thirds of the kids on their teams live 20 or 30 miles across town.... We didn't want to jeopardize them being in private vehicles or riding buses and getting home at 8 p.m."


It was Upset Friday during Week 6 of the football season:

* Sepulveda Monroe stunned Valley Mission title contender San Fernando, 25-24, for its first victory of the season.

* Sun Valley Poly, which hasn't had a winning season in 10 years, put itself into Sunset Six title contention by taking down North Hollywood.

* Locke shocked Dorsey, 8-7, in the latest in a string of losses for the City Section champions.

* Tujunga Verdugo Hills beat Canoga Park and could move to .500 this week with a victory over winless Hollywood.

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