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Small steps could build trust between public and private high school teams

It takes people with courage to start looking for ways to cooperate and help one another in the competitive field of high school sports, Eric Sondheimer writes.

May 23, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Anaheim Servite Coach Troy Thomas, left, is all smiles as the Friars put on the finishing touches of a victory over league rival Mater Dei at the Santa Ana Bowl.
Anaheim Servite Coach Troy Thomas, left, is all smiles as the Friars put… (Los Angeles Times )

There was a time during the Cold War when getting China and the United States to allow athletes to play one another in a game of pingpong was considered a major act of diplomacy.

The not-so-friendly relationship between public and private schools needs a similar small step to at least start a conversation toward reconciliation.

One example took place Saturday, when football players from Carson got into their cars and drove to Orange Lutheran, where the two teams held a combined workout under Coach Jim Kunau of Orange Lutheran and Coach Elijah Asante of Carson.

"It was beautiful," Asante said.

Players from both schools mingled and were told to sit next to a player from the other team when they ate pizza. They watched an inspiring film together and did drills together. It was a private school opening its campus to a public school team, and a public school coach showing his appreciation and confidence by not worrying that his players might decide to transfer.

"We're in this to benefit high school athletes no matter where they are," Asante said.

Another example of a public school embracing a private school coach involves Agoura High.

Football Coach Charlie Wegher heard Troy Thomas of Anaheim Servite speak in January at a coaching clinic, and he asked him to come to Agoura to give a talk on how he has been able to use "positive coaching" to create a culture of excellence at Servite.

More than 70 coaches from different sports at Agoura and the local community came to hear Thomas speak last month.

"Troy made an amazing speech," assistant principal Matt Baldwin said. "I was ready to play for him."

This week, Agoura is bringing in the Positive Coaching Alliance to start holding workshops. Next month teachers and students will be involved, and Wegher is vowing to create a different culture at Agoura using Thomas' ideas.

"They try to put kids in leadership positions so they play more confidently," Wegher said.

People are trying to understand how Thomas has been able to guide Servite to consecutive Pac-5 Division championships without being accused of illegal recruiting.

"Whether you're a private school or public school, recruiting is wrong," Thomas said. "It's not high school athletics."

If public school coaches could feel comfortable that coaches or parents at private schools weren't trying to recruit their players, more cooperation could take place.

"I don't look at it as private school guys versus public school guys," Thomas said. "I look at it as good coaches trying to develop leadership and character traits in their young men."

Does this all mean that the public schools in the Marmonte League are going to suddenly start thinking of Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Ventura St. Bonaventure as good buddies?

Probably not, but little steps can be taken to build trust, and it takes people with courage to start looking for ways to cooperate and help one another in the very competitive field of high school sports.

Thomas said winning is a "byproduct of trying to create good leadership and good character."

Public and private schools can agree about that.

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