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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Westchester-Fairfax rivalry rises after regional semifinal

Western League powers are at it again in a 55-54 Comets victory.

March 13, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

I've seen the passion of Carson-Banning football. I've seen players sweat and squirm during Chatsworth-El Camino Real baseball. I've watched the intensity of Dorsey-Crenshaw football.

But Westchester-Fairfax basketball has zoomed to the top of City Section sports rivalries, and it was on display in vintage form Thursday night in a Division I Southern California regional semifinal game at L.A. Southwest College.

Westchester trailed by one point with 14 seconds left. The Comets got the ball to guard Jordin Mayes, who penetrated, passed it to Dwayne Polee, who connected with four seconds left, giving Westchester a 55-54 victory over the Lions and a spot in Saturday's regional final against Riverside King at Pauley Pavilion.

It was the third meeting between the two Western League powers. There were seven lead changes in the third quarter alone. Fairfax (27-5) opened a seven-point lead with under three minutes left.

But the Comets (33-2) pulled to within 54-53, then got the biggest break of the game when Renardo Sidney threw the ball out of bounds with 32 seconds left. It set up the chance for the 6-foot-6 Polee to come through as the game's hero.

"I teased him," Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said. "He makes one play the whole game and it's the biggest play of the game. That's a tough shot from six, seven feet."

Dominique O'Connor and Mayes finished with 12 points apiece and Polee had 10. Sidney had 23 points and Solomon Hill 19 for Fairfax.

It was the final high school game for the 6-11 Sidney, who played two years at Fairfax without winning a championship after transferring from Lakewood Artesia, where he won a state Division III title as a sophomore.

This has been a week of turmoil and second-guessing at Fairfax, with Sidney front and center in a debate among teachers whether he received preferential treatment because of his basketball status.

On Tuesday, a disruption took place in a Spanish class. A counselor arrived, and Sidney became involved in a verbal dispute. An allegation was made that Sidney used vulgarities and was disrespectful. This happened hours before Fairfax was scheduled to leave on a bus for its state playoff game at Santa Ana Mater Dei.

School officials began an investigation, but Principal Edward Zubiate said he didn't have enough time or information to make a final decision.

Sidney was allowed to play in Fairfax's 79-64 victory

On Wednesday, Zubiate suspended Sidney from school for one day and took away a senior privilege after deciding evidence indicated he had engaged in disrupting behavior.

Zubiate said he would have suspended Sidney for Tuesday's game based on the additional information, but the suspension was enforced Wednesday, when Fairfax had no game and no practice.

"You don't want to punish him more because he's a famous kid," Zubiate said when asked why he was allowed to play Thursday.

A person familiar with the incident said a complaint was filed by a member of the Fairfax staff. The staff member had told Sidney during the classroom disruption to keep his hands away from a jar of pennies atop a teacher's desk.

A person familiar with the complaint said it alleges Sidney then responded, "I have more damn money than any of the teachers at this school."

Sidney was then ordered to a school office, but allegedly added, "I don't need to listen to you."

This wasn't the first time Sidney, a McDonald's All-American, has received unwanted attention. During a game against L.A. University, Sidney directed a vulgarity-laced comment near the Warriors' bench about their defense.

Two weeks ago, after a City Section semifinal game with Woodland Hills Taft, he used vulgarities when Taft Coach Derrick Taylor approached him after the game.

Sidney later apologized to Taylor. He also apologized to the staff member, according to Zubiate.

But Sidney's attitude is strikingly similar to what transpired last summer, when he played erratically in travel tournaments and got into shouting matches with referees. It raises the question if he's digressing rather than progressing just months before he's supposed to start his college career at USC.

Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani refused to let Sidney speak to media after Tuesday's game, which might have been the best decision of the week.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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