A Look Back at 1984 : Memories of Those Unguarded Moments on the Fields of Sport

Times Staff Writer

When the tough exterior of sports is penetrated, a fragility is found that encompasses many poignant and emotional moments. Following are some of the unguarded scenarios that told more than the scoreboards during 1984 in the Long Beach and Southeast area.

Demise of Dave Buss

Coach Dave Buss, confident he could resurrect basketball at Cal State Long Beach, was a few hours from another loss on a crystal March day in Santa Barbara as he watched the mountains shimmer in a soft blue sky.

Buss, who had come from Wisconsin where he was used to gray winters and victories, said, "Losing isn't fun, but a loss is a lot easier to take when you walk outside and it's 75 degrees, not 5 below."

A few weeks later, Buss was out in the cold after resigning under pressure after a 9-19 season.

An American Dream

The rodeo came to the Long Beach Arena in February. Out in the parking lot hours before the show, a couple were lying next to a can of beer in the back of their pickup truck. Their horse was standing in a pen. They had driven all night from Arizona so the woman could compete in barrel racing.

"I'm the husband who hauls her around," Richard Gunter said as he put his arm around his wife, Sharon.

They cuddled in the bright sun against a stinging wind, wrapped up in the American dream.

An Athlete's Struggle

At a hospital in February, Lynwood High School senior Shawn Powell, who became a quadriplegic during a football game, was beginning a struggle to function with dignity. His once-powerful frame was thin and motionless. His teeth clenched as he tried to turn his hands and lift his head.

"You just hang in there and thank God," he said, "and be thankful for what you have."

A week earlier, he had returned to Lynwood High where he was wheeled in front of the student body. White TV lights bathed him. A girl yelled, "We love you, Shawn," and a standing ovation cracked the tension.

Shawn Powell Revisited

Shawn Powell was at a therapy session in late June. His arms were fastened to little "skateboards," which were attached to a pulley system. Powell moved the boards vigorously, their wheels grating on a table.

"I wasn't supposed to move my arms," he said. "Look how far I've come now."

He was beaming. In a week, he would go home. He is there now, looking forward to attending USC next semester.

Becoming a Kid Again

On a dusty infield on a hot July Saturday, Roger LeClair, 61, was pitching for the Downey Deans, champions of a 55-and-over slo-pitch softball league. All the Deans had recaptured their youth, but none more than LeClair, who said between innings:

"I don't have time to work anymore and I don't make as much money, but I don't give a damn. This brings out the kid in you. Call me up at 3 in the morning and I'll go out and play ball with you."

Dedication Personified

On an October afternoon, Joyce Koehn of Gahr High School's volleyball team hurled her 6-foot-2 body onto a wood floor in pursuit of the ball, her skin turning pink from the exertion. She did this over and over during a practice despite pain from a sprained ankle that made her eyes glassy.

"Juice" was her nickname.

"The electricity, the juice of the team," she said.

Koehn was an all-league performer who led Gahr to the Southern Section title. But the Gladiators lost to Corona del Mar in their bid for a second straight state championship.

Traditions at St. Paul

In late autumn, the St. Paul High School varsity football players, wearing blue blazers with flowers in the lapels, held hands and walked their field hours before the game with Servite, keeping alive a tradition.

At the end of the walk, the seniors broke into small groups to talk and shake hands until the pounding of another tradition broke the quiet.

Players on the sophomore team were being run up and down the bleachers by a coach. Their time to reflect was two years away.

The Swordsmen lost to Servite and ended the season with a 5-5 record.

Time Out for the Family

Mike Sheppard, the new 32-year-old football coach at Cal State Long Beach, was near the end of a long day at spring practice in April. He walked to the sidelines to join his wife, Cathy, and children, Brian, 1, and Christina, 5.

"Daddy, watch me, Daddy," Christina said as she tossed a football.

Sheppard said to Christina, "Can you give me a kiss?" Brian, with that desperate look of a child realizing his father is leaving, moved in for one too.

Sheppard, eager to resume building a team, ran back on the field. His children's eyes followed him every step of the way.

The 49ers went 4-7 under Sheppard.

A Team's 10th Man

The most memorable member of the Lakewood High School baseball team wore a uniform but he wasn't a player. He was the scorekeeper and groundskeeper.

"Look at that field. It's beautiful," said senior Rich Flores as the Lancers practiced for the Southern Section playoffs in May. Flores pointed to a wide expanse of green grass and well-manicured brown dirt.

"This is my way to participate in the sport. Part of me is out there. I'm probably the 10th player."

When Lakewood lost a few days later to San Gorgonio at Blair Field, Flores appeared to be the saddest Lancer of all.

Tears in the Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl's white lights sliced through the September dusk as the Cal State Long Beach football team lingered on the field after losing to UCLA, 23-17. Flushed with their effort, the players walked to a corner of the end zone to salute Long Beach fans, who gave them a standing ovation.

Linebacker Dave Komendat grabbed quarterback Doug Gaynor by the shoulder pads. Gaynor, who had passed for 312 yards, started to smile, then broke down and cried. Komendat cried too.

Blood, Sweat and Beers

A rugby player from Santa Fe Springs, Al Etherton, lay in a medical aid tent and held his boots on his blood-smeared stomach. The blood had dripped from his nose, which had been bashed during a spring tournament at Santa Barbara.

"Let's sew him up," a doctor said of the day's 77th casualty to visit the tent.

After the last stitch had been snipped, Etherton's teammates came in and said, "We won it for you."

En route to the traditional postgame campfire beer party, Etherton encountered his wife, Glenda. He was wearing a bandage as a badge of courage.

"I doesn't hurt," he said.

"I don't think it's funny," she said.

A Runner's Agony

Like a deer loping through the lengthening April shadows, Kerri Zaleski ran along a blacktop track during practice. Suddenly, she stopped, bent over on the far side of the track, spotlighted by the day's final shaft of sun.

The Millikan High middle-distance runner and 1988 Olympic prospect returned panting and said, "I've never stopped before. My legs are tight and heavy."

Her coach told her not to worry.

As she walked wearily to the locker room, she said, "No, I never get tired of this. I wouldn't be here if I didn't enjoy it."

Father, Son on a Diamond

The boy, who had a sore elbow and an upset stomach, was suffering on the pitching mound in early summer.

"Take me out, Dad," yelled 10-year-old Mike Cardona of the Angels of the La Mirada Baseball Pony Colt Assn. after his pitch hit a batter.

His father, team manager Rene Cardona, moved him to second base. Mike made an error there and his dad yelled at him for not getting down on a ground ball.

After the game, while the rest of the Angels rushed to a celebration feast of Cokes and Twinkies, Mike walked slowly and cried.

He had a big arm around him, though.

His father's.

Where Football Is War

This was war, not just a football game, to Bell Gardens High football Coach Dave Newell, and he was emphasizing that in the eerie yellow light of a locker room before the Downey game.

"Put the war bonnets on," Newell ordered.

"They expect you to jam it down their throats. Don't let 'em down. Understand me?"

He was roaring.

"Yes, SIR," the young men roared back.

Whipped into a frenzy, they screamed "Hit, hit, hit, hit," charged onto a battlefield that had been perfumed by cheerleaders, and conquered Downey.

The Lancers finished 10-2.

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