YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Off-Season Scrimmage

Transfer of quarterback Carpenter from Newbury Park to Westlake is causing a stir and straining friendships

May 18, 2003|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

This is the backdrop for the competition to determine who will play quarterback for a top high school program in the region next fall:

There are accusations of harassment, consultations with attorneys, a temporary restraining order, and a divorced couple who exchanged residences in an attempt to win athletic eligibility for their son.

There are two football coaches, friends away from the field, one poised to add a star player at a position critical to his fielding a championship team, the other losing his best player and challenging his friend, the rival coach, to "do the right thing" and keep the transfer on the sideline.

Just another typical off-season at Westlake Village Westlake High, where this much is certain: Next fall, for the seventh consecutive season, the Warriors' quarterback will either be a transfer student or one who lives outside the school's attendance area.

The latest player to drop in is Rudy Carpenter, previously the quarterback at Newbury Park, where last season he passed for 3,129 yards and 24 touchdowns in 10 games to earn most valuable player in the Marmonte League.

Carpenter transferred to Westlake in February, and since then has been trying to convince officials to deem him eligible for varsity athletic competition so he can add to a crowded stable of passers.

Already at Westlake are Brian Anderson, a transfer from West Hills Chaminade, Jason Soporito, who lives in the cross-town primary attendance area of another school, and Daniel Tromello, another transfer from Newbury Park.

Anderson and Soporito competed for the starting position at Westlake last year, but lost out to Erik Vose, yet another transfer from Chaminade.

Tromello has competed with Carpenter before. He left Newbury Park after his freshman season -- when his father, Stephen, obtained a temporary restraining order against Carpenter's father, Scott, alleging harassment.

Stephen Tromello didn't want to be quoted in this story, but Scott Carpenter confirmed the players' fathers are "not friends."

Caught in the middle are coaches Jim Benkert of Westlake and George Hurley of Newbury Park, who over the years have managed to navigate less muddled situations well enough to maintain a strong friendship.

Benkert, Westlake's football coach for 15 years, said that friendship is only one of the reasons he spent weeks trying to discourage Carpenter's transfer. The other is that he is weary of defending Westlake's acceptance of high-profile athletes who transfer.

"I don't know what to do," Benkert said. "We didn't do anything to bring him here. We tried to ethically correct the situation. We went as far as we could to support [Newbury Park]. The ethical question [of] what's right and what's wrong bothers me.

"You have a kid in no-man's land because of decisions adults made [and] I have to clean up everybody's mess and make a decision I shouldn't have to make."

Newbury Park officials have praised the Westlake coach for his cooperation in sorting out Carpenter's transfer, but he isn't getting much slack from fellow coach Hurley, who said Benkert "has an obligation not to play [Carpenter]" even if the transfer is judged legal.

Quarterbacks have been creating logjams at Westlake almost as long as open enrollment, a state law passed in 1994 that has given parents the option of choosing schools outside their neighborhoods.

A school of academic distinction nestled in foothills surrounded by pristine parks, lush golf courses, a large, man-made lake and $1-million homes in otherwise tranquil eastern Ventura County, Westlake is a popular destination.

From 1997 to 1999, Zac Wasserman was the starting quarterback while he lived in Tarzana and attended Westlake on a special permit. Todd Feiereisen, a transfer from Thousand Oaks, was the starter in 2000 and 2001. Then came Vose and now, possibly, Carpenter.

Many of the league's coaches also remember that in 1998 the Southern Section stepped in to ban standout receiver Michael Brignac from playing for Westlake. Officials determined that the father of a Westlake player had exerted "undue influence" in prompting Brignac's transfer from Reseda.

Two years ago, the Marmonte League passed a policy on students who transferred schools without moving, banning them from varsity athletic competition for one year. That rule has been adopted by Southern Section and City Section schools and goes into effect next fall.

It didn't stop Vose's transfer, though, because he moved. And it might not apply to Carpenter, who is trying to prove that he, too, has moved.

Marmonte coaches are taking a wait-and-see approach to the Carpenter matter, knowing it's out of their hands.

"Ten years ago, I would have been going wild with my hair on fire," Simi Valley Royal Coach Gene Uebelhardt said. "But this is the norm. Rules are made with good intentions, but I don't know if they're always enforced."

Los Angeles Times Articles