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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Dedicated coaches and responsive players provide inspiration in LAUSD sports

Coaches who help other coaches and players who respond to kindness and sacrifice help create success stories in the City Section, Eric Sondheimer writes.

May 15, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Granada Hills Kennedy shortstop Andrew Pacleb makes a play against San Fernando in a Valley Mission League game on Friday.
Granada Hills Kennedy shortstop Andrew Pacleb makes a play against San… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

I've never been more pessimistic about the future of high school sports in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Promising young coaches are abandoning programs, coaching stipends are being reduced, letters asking for donations to pay for buses are being sent out, teachers are getting pink slips and parents are shopping around for the best deals from private schools.

Just when I was ready to wave the white flag of surrender, I went out trying to be inspired by something or someone. And it happened.

At the Coliseum League track finals, there was Crenshaw Coach Steve Lang getting a hug from Dorsey high jumper Ross Stribbling. And there was Lang shaking hands with Dorsey Coach Ralph Tilley. Remember, it's Dorsey-Crenshaw, one of the most heated rivalries in sports.

It turns out Lang, who has coached six 7-foot high jumpers since the 1980s, briefly worked at Dorsey in the fall. He and Tilley are good friends. Lang was hired to become Crenshaw's track coach but decided not to abandon Stribbling.

"I work with kids," Lang said.

This spring, Stribbling, a lanky 6-foot-4 junior, cleared a career-best 6-7 in the high jump. Lots of people are predicting he'll be a 7-footer by next year. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of Tilley and Lang, he has two veteran coaches guiding him.

"Let them know I'm coming," Stribbling said of the state track championships next month.

This is the way success stories happen in the City Section these days, coach helping coach and players responding to acts of kindness and sacrifice.

At Granada Hills Kennedy, the Golden Cougars have the best shortstop in the City Section. His name is Andrew Pacleb, a 5-5 junior whiz kid who could probably close his eyes and still come up with a ground ball hit in his direction.

This is the first full season of high school baseball for Pacleb. He had been academically ineligible as a freshman and for most of his sophomore year.

"It was laziness," he said. "I had to grow up."

Kennedy Coach Manny Alvarado said, "We've tried everything. I've got several of his teachers on speed dial. We check him every other week."

Pacleb simply didn't do his school work. He'd come home from class and watch baseball on television.

"He's an outstanding kid," Alvarado said. "His teachers say he's a gentleman."

But school is about learning and preparing to be an adult. Pacleb is finally beginning to understand the consequences of his early inaction.

"It's gone by so fast," he said. "I wish I could take it back."

Said Alvarado: "He's not going to Stanford."

If Pacleb can start working as hard in the classroom as he does on the baseball field, anything is possible, and he has teachers and coaches offering him the opportunity. Now it's up to him.

This is the way it's supposed to work in LAUSD, where no one is left behind no matter how bleak things look.

"There's a cloud over some kids," Alvarado said. "Things don't go right in their lives."

That's where coaches and teachers try to intervene and help. And if the kid listens and responds, magic happens.

Kennedy is one of the favorites to make it to Dodger Stadium and play for the City Section championship on June 4. Imagine what it would be like for Pacleb standing on the infield at Dodger Stadium.

It won't mean he'll be playing in the major leagues in a couple of years. It won't mean he can suddenly coast next fall in his senior year. It will mean he has put his life back on the path to success and offer proof why coaches coach and teachers teach during a time of constant turmoil.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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