At Home in Loyola Football Camp : High School’s Weeklong Activity a Popular Tradition

Times Staff Writer

Loyola High athletic director Jon Dawson wandered around the perimeter of the school gym last week surveying what the 55 varsity football players had brought for their weeklong camp.

There were only two things not allowed, Dawson said, “water beds and Playboy bunny posters.”

So far, he hadn’t found either.

Just then, though, he spied a framed poster of a nude woman taking a shower. It was an arty photograph that showed water running down the woman’s back.

“Sorry, son,” Dawson said to the owner. “That will have to go. This is a Christian school, a Catholic school. I wouldn’t want Father Cahalan (the school president) to come in here and see that.”

The boy protested briefly. “But it’s a tasteful poster, coach,” he said. “And my father gave it to me.”


Dawson, who also is assistant football coach, allowed that the poster was tasteful, but it had to be sent home anyhow.

Teen-Agers’ Trappings

The rest of the teen-agers’ trappings could stay: mattresses and box springs, sofas, futons, chairs, nightstands, dressers, lamps, plants, stereos and television sets, rock, TV and movie star posters, Raiders and Rams pennants, an Olympic banner, flags from Italy, Ireland and Sweden.

“They each try to have a little bit of home away from home for the week,” Dawson explained.

The boys arrived on Sunday to set up their living quarters, took Labor Day off and moved into camp from Tuesday through Saturday.

Loyola is one of a handful of Catholic high schools in the area that hold live-in football camps, patterned after those of professional football teams. So far, the idea does not seem to have caught on in the public schools.

“We started our Camp Week here in 1973,” Dawson said. “I was with Marty Shaughnessy, the coach at St. Bernard’s. He actually started camp week at St. Bernard’s in 1969. When we (he and Shaughnessy, who is now in private business) came here, we brought it with us. Several other schools have them, but I think ours is the longest. Some have mini-camps. Some have camps, but don’t stay overnight.”

Dawson and head coach Steve Grady, who was known as “Grady the Great” when he was an outstanding tailback for Loyola from 1960 to ’62, say the main reason for the school’s live-in camp is logistics.

“Transportation is a difficult problem for the kids,” Dawson said. “So we keep them here for that reason. Plus, it makes them better friends. Living together they get to know each other better.

In 10th Year as Coach

“We have kids from all over, from the Palisades to La Canada, Glendale, Palos Verdes, Whittier,” said Grady, who is beginning his 10th year as head coach of Loyola’s football Cubs.

Under Grady’s tutelage, Loyola football teams have won 70 games, lost 25, tied four. They took five Del Rey League championships.

“If you want to compete with the best in high school football, you’re going to have to work hard,” Grady said. “They do work hard, and it’s just better when they stay here after practicing all day, rather than driving all the way home.”

So, for their camp, the players plan on bringing all the comforts from home. And more.

Once ensconced in their gym, the players’ living setups were remarkably elaborate compared with those of the five coaches. The coaches had arranged five beds in a row at one end of the gym. None had even brought a lamp or a radio.

Senior Jeff Whittet, a wide receiver who also plays on the Loyola golf team, had installed a small portable putting green next to his bed so he could keep in golfing form when he wasn’t practicing football.

Whittet is a member of what the boys call “the La Canada Connection,” 12 players on the Loyola varsity who come from La Canada, home of Loyola’s chief CIF Big 5 Conference rival, St. Francis.

“We get more original as time goes by,” said senior Justin Gmelich, another teammate from La Canada. Gmelich, a defensive back who had attended camp week the year before, had brought a large floor fan in case the hot weather persisted. The next day, he added a large potted palm to his living quarters.

On the wall behind one bed was a sign that read: THIS IS AN ADULT POOL AREA. NO ONE UNDER AGE 16 PERMITTED. An official California Smog Inspection sign hung in one corner, not far from the Italian flag senior linebacker Steve Balsarini of Whittier had hung over his bed.

“This is my first year, but I brought everything,” said Sean Doheny, a junior who will be a defensive back for the varsity this season. Doheny, who lives in Hancock Park, had a rug, hatrack, TV, lamp, radio, digital clock, as well as his bed and nightstand. “I’ve got to go get some Rambo posters, though,” he said.

Perhaps the most unusual possession brought by a player was the bust of Julius Caesar that Julio Costanzo of Glendale had placed at the foot of his bed.

“It’s nothing special. I just thought it was interesting looking. I got it at a garage sale about a month ago,” said Costanzo, a junior guard attending his first varsity football Camp Week. “But I am interested in Rome. My mom was born there and I’d like to go there to college.”

Caesar in a Hat

Caesar was bare-headed when Costanzo brought the bust in. By the week’s end, though, Caesar sported a large-brimmed straw hat.

Pat McCarty, a senior from Los Feliz, planned to provide the evening entertainment for the week with his VCR and movies, “First Blood” and “The Terminator,” followed by Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, and Mel Gibson as Mad Max.

For the McCartys, attending Loyola is becoming a tradition. Pat McCarty, a defensive end, is the third of his family to go to Loyola. His brother Shaun graduated in 1979, brother Brendan last year.

Tradition is a key word at Loyola High School.

Founded in 1865, Loyola is the oldest Catholic school in Los Angeles, and the oldest Jesuit high school, although it was begun by the Vincentians, not the Jesuits.

The Jesuits took over the school, then called St. Vincent’s College and located in downtown Los Angeles, in 1911. The school moved to its present location in 1917, and the following year its name was changed to Loyola College and High School. The college division moved to Westchester in 1929.

Today, Loyola’s old ivy-covered Gothic brick buildings are in stark contrast to the small, mostly unkempt houses that surround its acreage on Venice Boulevard, between Vermont and Normandie avenues.

“We have generations of families who have come here,” said Dawson. “Grandfathers, fathers. Now their kids come. Our main emphasis here is to develop a totally rounded Christian person. To stress excellence in academics, extracurricular activities, community service. Excellence in everything they do. Be good students, good athletes and good persons.”

“We get very talented kids here,” said Father Gordon Bennett, who graduated from Loyola in 1964 and is starting his sixth year as Loyola principal. “They’re capable of maintaining their scholastic standing as well as being involved in extracurricular activities and sports. About 91% of them go on to four-year colleges. This (Camp Week) is not out of the ordinary for what schools do. I’m not sure schools should be doing all this. I have ambivalent feelings about it.

“Part of it (camp) is the commitment of time and the bonding result that it has,” Bennett said. “The family atmosphere that extends to all programs of the school. The bonding with adults and each other is crucial these days. Too many kids don’t have something to commit their time to, so they get into trouble. I don’t think sports are a false God here, or anywhere else.”

In addition to football, Loyola offers 10 other varsity sports to its 1,060 young men, a large intramural program, a wide range of music and drama groups.

All Sports Are Equal

“Probably nobody works harder than the music groups, or speech and debate,” said Dawson, a St. Paul High alumnus. “Of our 11 varsity sports, each sport is treated equally. We don’t favor football over volleyball or tennis. This year we’re upgrading our football program and devoting three pages to every sport.”

But Dawson admitted, “To be honest, football is still the glamour sport. We don’t want football to be thought of as the one thing they do here. But they don’t put our golf scores in The Times.

“Southern California prep football is big,” he added. “Most of the good programs are big time. We’re fortunate we don’t have to support our athletic programs with football like some schools.”

Athletes at Loyola, according to Dawson, get no special treatment because they play sports.

“There are no breaks, no favors because you’re an athlete,” he said. “The curriculum is tough here. It’s academically like a college. They have to maintain a 2-point average to stay in school. If you’re below a 2-point for two semesters, you’re out of school.”

On this year’s varsity, Dawson estimates that 60 to 70% of the players have a 3.0 or better average.

“It’s really tough to get in here,” Dawson said. “The entrance exam is tough. This year about 700 took the entrance test and 296 got in.”

Dawson said Loyola’s football budget is small, about $8,000 a year, not counting the stadium rentals. The school has no on-campus stadium. Its home games are played at Moyse Field at Glendale High School.

Loyola’s football program is one of the oldest among prep schools in Los Angeles, begun in 1927.

Camp Week has become quite a popular tradition among Loyola families in the 12 years since its inception.

Fathers and/or brothers helped the players move in their possessions and often stopped by to watch a practice or two.

Loyola mothers volunteered

their time to serve each meal and clean up the kitchen during the day. Others came in the evening to serve the food and clean up at snack time. Lunches and dinners were prepared by Chuck O’Connor, the chef for the priests in residence.

For the most part, Loyola’s Camp Week schedule afforded team and coaches little spare time. Wake-up call each day was 6:45 a.m. Lights out at 10:45 p.m.

Sandwiched in between were breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time and three football practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. The team practiced only twice on Thursday and Friday because classes were held in the mornings.

On Saturday after morning practice, players went to mass, and readied their possessions to take home--a huge task, considering the gym’s state of disarray.

They broke camp in late afternoon, following the scheduled Blue-White varsity scrimmage.

Josh Price of La Canada, one of two sophomores on the varsity this year, offered his impressions of camp: “It was a lot of fun. A definite experience. I think it brings everybody together and really unites the team.”

During Camp Week only players and coaches were permitted in the gym; meals were served in nearby Xavier Center. Girlfriends were allowed to visit the boys during snack break in the evening.

Camp Week costs parents $50 for each player, which covers the cost of food. Several volunteer mothers said they thought that price was quite reasonable, considering how much teen-agers can eat.

Community Spirit

“I don’t know another high school that has this type of community spirit,” said Dorothy O’Neil of Hancock Park, the senior mother who served as chairman of the volunteer Loyola mothers. “There’s very strong school spirit here and I think all of this, camp week, everybody working together, contributes to the school spiritually too.

“We get to know the other mothers too. Everyone knows each other on a different level. It’s physically and mentally very exhausting for the kids, but I think they think its quite an honor.”

O’Neil’s husband Mike, a 1956 Loyola graduate, is president of the Booster Club; son Ken graduated from Loyola in 1982; son Dan, the starting quarterback, is a senior.

Dorothy O’Neil and the two co-chairmothers, JoAnn Ratkovich and Nancy Pascale, who also live in Hancock Park, were in the kitchen on Friday afternoon making huge mounds of tossed salad for dinner. They had been at school every day supervising the meals.

By the time camp ended, the amount of food consumed would be staggering: 680 sandwiches, 425 sweet rolls, 40 lugs of fruit and 1,250 cartons of milk--not to mention the baked chickens, roast beef, steaks, bags of potatoes and vegetables and caldrons of soup and spaghetti.

Nobody kept a count of the homemade cookies, brownies and cakes that mothers brought for snacks each night.

A surprise snack on Friday included about 80 Big Macs, malts and Chicken McNuggets, donated by Robert and Sally Pernecky of La Canada-Flintridge, whose son Mike is a junior defensive back. The Perneckys own several McDonald’s franchises.

“They learn (at camp) that other people depend on them, " said Nancy Pascale, a veteran of eight seasons of Loyola camp week. “They learn responsibility, discipline, spiritual training. And camp is a tremendous spirit builder.”

Pascale’s son Matt, a senior guard, is the last of her four sons to attend Loyola and play football. Paul, who graduated in 1978, is a football coach and teacher at Daniel Murphy High; Christopher graduated in 1979; Damien in 1981. “We have a full gambit of kids here,” Pascale said. “Rich kids, poor kids on family aid, most in the middle somewhere. Camp encourages them to see each other as individuals and get to know each other. My oldest son once said that you can get to learn pretty fast which kid you can depend on out there (on the football field).”

Pascale, who made a special wall banner for camp week that hangs in Xavier Center, said she felt sad that this would be her last year as a camp week mother. She and O’Neil will turn over senior mother duties to JoAnn Ratkovich, the rookie camp mother this season. Milan Ratkovich is a junior defensive end.

“People often have said that at Loyola we are very sports-oriented,” Pascale said. “But the minute the boys finish football, they go try out for musicals and things. The star quarterback last year was the lead in the spring musical, ‘West Side Story.’ They get just as many accolades for those things as football. I think people should know that.”