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CITY HIGH SCHOOLS

A Whole New Game

With a dramatic shift in demographics in the last 20 years, sports teams are reflecting the changes

December 11, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Change is coming to high school sports in the City Section, and it's reflected in the demographic transformation taking place in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Thirty years ago, Canoga Park didn't have a soccer team and its student body was 65% Caucasian.

Last year, the soccer-playing sons of immigrants from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia helped Canoga Park finish 24-0-1 and earn recognition as the nation's No. 1 boys' soccer team.

"They grow up with a ball at their feet," Coach Jake Gwin said of his Latino players, who are now part of a 79% majority at the school.

In 1975, when San Fernando won the City 4-A football championship, the Tigers featured the African American backfield of Kenney Moore, Charles White, Kevin Williams and Ray Williams. In the 2006-07 school year, the number of African American students had fallen to 28 in a student body of 3,756, with a 98% Latino representation.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, December 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
High school sports: In Tuesday's Sports section, a chart listing the racial/ethnic histories of the 49 comprehensive high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District said Palisades High in 2006 had an enrollment of 3,903 with 1,495 white students, 1,151 Latino, 219 black and 791 Asian. Those numbers are wrong. In 2006, the school had an enrollment of 2,707, with 1,280 white students, 656 Latino, 497 black and 221 Asian.

These demographic changes are leading to a shift in sports preference and emphasis at many LAUSD schools.

LAUSD demographic statistics compiled in 1980, when there were only 49 comprehensive high schools, are dramatically different from those of 2006-07, when there were nearly twice as many schools.

Fremont's student population, which was 96% African American in 1980, is now 90% Latino. Jefferson, once 68% African American, is 91% Latino. Jordan, 94% African American in 1980, is down to 20% African American students but is 79% Latino.

Even high schools in the once predominantly white enclaves of the San Fernando Valley are changing. Chatsworth, with a 77% Caucasian population in 1980, is 47% Latino. Lake Balboa Birmingham, 73% Caucasian in 1980, is 69% Latino. Reseda Cleveland, once 64% Caucasian, is 58% Latino.

The lone school in LAUSD currently with a Caucasian population of more than 50% is Woodland Hills El Camino Real, which has still fallen from 74% Caucasian in 1980 to 53% and has seen its Asian population grow from 84 students in 1980 to 393, or 11% of its student body.

Latinos and Asians are expected to make up 80% of the population in Los Angeles County by 2050, according to state population projections issued in July, with Latinos growing to 8.4 million, or 65% of the total population. The African American population is expected to decline from 910,000, or 9% of the population, in 2000 to 583,000, or 4% of the population, in 2050.

One sport, above all, appears positioned to benefit most from these demographic trends -- soccer.

It's already the most popular sport, in terms of participation, among high school girls in California, with 40,895 players. Track and field is second among girls, with 38,817 participants. And boys' soccer has gained more than 5,000 players since 2005, a 13% increase -- the greatest among all sports in the state -- that has increased the number of players to 44,730.

Every weekend, whether at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles or at Valley Plaza in North Hollywood, soccer is being played from dawn until dusk, with entire families involved in the sport.

In the City Section, the boys' soccer playoffs feature the only single-elimination 32-team bracket among the 12 team sports offered, and that's because of competitive equity -- no need to have a second-tier Invitational bracket. The toughest playoff game last season for top-seeded Canoga Park was a 1-0 victory over 32nd-seeded Hollywood.

At Canoga Park, where nearly 90 students tried out for the boys' soccer team, there are dozens who play the sport at lunchtime, and others who show up to school wearing jerseys of professional soccer players.

At Jefferson, more than 100 students tried out for boys' soccer, and football Coach Doi Johnson has begun to wonder whether soccer will continue to rise in popularity.

"I don't think it will ever overtake football, because it's America's game," Johnson said. "It might overtake basketball. If you said that in the '80s, that thought wouldn't be fathomable."

Among the 708,461 students enrolled in kindergarten through high school in the LAUSD last year, 73% were Latino, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the sons and daughters of parents from Latin America are embracing soccer as their No. 1 sport.

"It's every child's dream to be a soccer player in Mexico," said Omar De La Piedra, a senior soccer player at Canoga Park who was born in the U.S. but has lived in Mexico.

"It's a family tradition," added senior Oscar De La Cruz, whose father played soccer in Guatemala.

Jeff Davis, Chatsworth's former principal, said, "When I was coaching up to 1993, everybody had soccer teams, but it wasn't any big deal. Now it's huge. All you have to do is go to a soccer match and see the emotion and passion not only in players but also in their parents. Every neighborhood I go to, I see people playing soccer."

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