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Loyola principal Frank Kozakowski discusses era of transfers

Loyola principal Frank Kozakowski discusses era of transfers
Frank Kozakowski has worked at Loyola High for 41 years, the last 10 as principal. (Eric Sondheimer)

Frank Kozakowski is in his 41st year working at Loyola High, the oldest secondary school in Southern California. He has been a teacher, football coach, assistant principal and now principal in his 10th year.

The all-boys Catholic school has a student body of 1,250. Pasadena, Pacific Palisades and Manhattan Beach are among the areas that send the most students to Loyola. The school is known for its all-around athletic program, contending for championships yearly in swimming, cross-country, volleyball, golf, soccer and lacrosse.

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In football, Loyola has won six Division 1 championships but none since 2005. This year, the football team has dropped to Division 2 for the first time. The school’s philosophy of not accepting transfer students strictly for sports reasons, particularly seniors, could be a factor.

Kozakowski has been adamant that his school will not play the transfer game. Last year the school had 10 transfer students listed on the Southern Section website. Santa Ana Mater Dei, which went 15-0 in football, had 71.

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Kozakowski spent more than an hour recently discussing the issues of transfers and expectations for sports success.

Commissioner Rob Wigod asks if it’s time to have a conversation on transfers in high school sports. What are your thoughts?

There’s been movement in the CIF to remove some of the obstacles to transfer and to make it easier. To start a conversation at this stage … the cattle are out of the barn. The assumption is the CIF is unwilling to take this on from a legal aspect, so can we set up restrictions on transfers that don’t penalize the individual student? Because there are reasons a student should try a different environment. I don’t know what the solution is. I would rely on leadership from the CIF just like from the NCAA to corral runaway transfers, but in every publication Rob puts out, he defends that transfers aren’t up and that it isn’t a problem.

Is it a problem?

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I don’t know if it’s a problem. It’s certainly a puzzlement at the large number of transfers at certain schools. I can understand why some schools need transfers to up their enrollment. We accepted more transfers this year than in the past because our enrollment is down a little bit. There are reasons for it to happen. As a father of two children, I could see they may feel a better opportunity to play their sport at school A over school B. Should we allow that to happen? How can we keep it from becoming a runaway [issue]? I don’t have any solutions.

Your school doesn’t take a lot of transfers. And some of your coaches feel they are at a disadvantage. What are your expectations for coaches competing against schools with transfers?

My expectations for the coaches are the same regardless who we are competing against. I want them to put a team on the field, on the court, in the pool that I’m proud of, that competes at the highest possible level and conducts themselves on the sideline and on the field as gentlemen. Are these other schools becoming all-star teams making it tougher to compete? It may make it a little tougher for us to win, but I want us to be excellent. It presents a challenge to play with our strengths. What are the strengths of the Loyola athlete? Part of it is intellect. Discipline. Our coaches can find ways to tap into that to compete against these other schools.

Can Loyola have football success in Division 1 without transfers?

Absolutely. We’ve got great kids who work hard and are dedicated athletes, dedicated students that can compete on the Division 1 level.

But you’ve dropped to Division 2. Are you OK with that?

The drop to D2 is done by competitive equity as applied by the CIF. I’m supportive of the current model. It makes sense that teams that have experienced similar success are grouped together. I have every expectation that we’re going to get back in Division 1.

What do you tell the alumni who complain about dropping to Division 2?

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There’s no need for them to be concerned. This is a model in place by the CIF. We have a path to get us back to Division 1. Alumni, what I would like you to do is continue to support Loyola and whatever team we put on the field.

How are you grading your coach competing against principals who are allowing kids in for athletic reasons?

The grading of my coach isn’t dependent on win-loss record and CIF championships. It’s dependent on the formation of the young men and the presentation of the team on the field and on the sideline that I’m proud of. When I coached, we always said you can’t teach speed, so if you’re slow, there’s no way you’re going to outrun DBs that are faster. But you can be smarter and be more disciplined in what you do and how you attack them offensively and defensively. We’re not void of talent. Corona Centennial, I don’t know if we can match up man to man. But I’ll go back to 1990. There’s no way we matched up with Fontana. If we played them 100 times, they’d beat us 100 times. But that one night, a special magic happened that our scrawny little kids beat a college-level team.

As a Catholic school principal who talks to other Catholic school principals, is it frustrating sometimes that they are doing things a lot differently from you in terms of how they admit students or do you not care because you have your own particular philosophy?

At the end of the day, I don’t necessarily know what happens and how each principal runs his own school. What I would hope we have is a level of dialogue and discussion before students transferring schools. I would hope each principal would be an active agent in that process and we would have increased communications.

When you look what’s happening around Southern California and perhaps in the Trinity League how they are handling their athletic programs, do you have any issues with that?

I think the only sustainable model for high school education is a strong academic program with co-curricular athletic programs that support that academic mission of a school. Certainly in looking at things from the outside, it seems that athletics has been a bigger influence at some schools than others, and I hope that’s not the case.

Parents would say they should have a right to move their kids around just like to find a music program or a great science program. Why do you think athletics should be different?

That’s the challenge. You want your child to have the best possible experience. There could be a stronger program at one school. I would hope that parents have done their research before coming into high school in the ninth grade … and that their child would have a four-year career at that school. What happens with sports, coaches change, philosophies change, the grass just looks greener on the other side.

This is your 41st year involved with Loyola. There were people before you and there will be people after you. Explain the Loyola philosophy.

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The underlying thing is the philosophy of a Jesuit education that has been in existence for the last 152 years. That is, we’re going to take the leaders of each community and we’re going to educate them to be, in our case, men of conscious, of strong moral compass, that’s going to have a caring concern for the poor and marginalized, are going to be challenged academically at the highest possible level who will then go out into their community and be agents for change. That’s the Jesuit philosophy that’s been here long before me and will exist long after me. Everything we do needs to feed into that philosophy.

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