Most would say that John Bellows has been given his share of second chances.
As a Reseda High soccer player, Bellows will play in tonight's City Section championship. A rules proposal that would have forced him to miss the match for being ejected in a semifinal was declared invalid on a technicality this week.
As a person, Bellows said he overcame a problem with marijuana use that contributed to his attending four high schools and left him in a hospital for rehabilitation 15 months ago.
Bellows said he has not used marijuana since. But the 17-year-old does not believe in second chances--at least not in the typical sense.
"I've been given a lot of these so-called second chances," Bellows said. "Everybody says 'OK, you have one more chance, this is your last chance. If you don't straighten out, you're going to die.'
"I just think it's all about the person; if they want to change they will. Throughout the whole time, if I had wanted to change, make things better, I would have done that. I just didn't have the desire."
Bellows's mother, Jill, said that her son's drug problem was related to other unspecified difficulties in his life.
"John has been through an awful lot," said Jill Bellows, an instructor at West Los Angeles College. "He had a drug problem but it was really a side issue to other things. Just to present him as a druggie is a disservice. There's a lot more to it than that."
Longtime friend and teammate Terry Davila agreed: "His drug problem has really been overexploited. I don't think it was as bad as everybody thought it was."
Bellows, in his third year of high school, speaks candidly about his drug use of the past. He says he began smoking marijuana in the sixth grade, but that it never led to the use of hard drugs. Bellows does not blame pressure from others, however.
"I guess I just found something I liked so I kept using it," Bellows said. "I didn't think about the effects. I couldn't see any effects. I did it, it was great, so I did it some more."
Bellows, however, acknowledges that smoking marijuana was destructive.
"I've learned that drugs make everything seem unreal. You're really living in a fantasy world," Bellows said. "Things that seem to you to be one thing, are really another thing."
An honors student through grade school, Bellows' academic problems began in ninth grade, he said, and culminated when poor grades forced him to leave Crespi High in the middle of his sophomore year, according to his father Tom Bellows. At Crespi he had played on the junior varsity soccer team.
"He was always an honors student, then he stopped being an honors student," his mother said. "His whole life went downhill. It was hard to accept, because we didn't know what was going on."
He transferred to Cleveland High in Reseda, in 10th grade, but the downward trend in his grades continued. Bellows, however, does not blame his academic problems on marijuana use.
"At Cleveland, I was just ditching too much," he said.
It was after his semester at Cleveland, that he was admitted to Coldwater Canyon Hospital in North Hollywood for three months.
"I was going to a psychiatrist and I had a friend going to the same psychiatrist," Bellows said. "He asked my friend if I was using drugs and he said yes. The psychiatrist confronted me with it, and I said, 'Of course I don't.' He told my mom and dad and they ended up putting me in the hospital."
His parents, however, were relieved.
"I knew that he would be safe," Jill Bellows said. "I was afraid he would become suicidal, and we were glad he was in the hospital, because we knew where he was and he would be alive."
During his stay at the hospital, from July to October, 1986, Walt James--the coach of Bellows' club team--brought the team to visit him.
"We never dropped him from the team," James said. "You have to teach other things than just soccer."
Other than his parents--whom Bellows describes as supportive--soccer has been perhaps the only constant throughout his troubles. During his hospitalization, he was given one day to go home, and he used it to play in a club soccer game.
"The team had a game that day, and we won. I played pretty good even though I hadn't been at practice," he said.
After his release from Coldwater Canyon, Bellows opted to transfer to Aliso, an alternative school one mile from the Cleveland campus. While there he participated in a program called "Stay Sober," with 14 other students, according to Eileen Banta, the school's principal.
"Aliso was great," Bellows said. "The teachers at continuation schools are really helpful. They want to help the kids. . . . Because the school was so small, there was no problem ditching, because they'd catch you. I was able to work at my own pace and make up a lot of credits that I missed."
But one thing Aliso did not have was a soccer team. At the end of his year at Aliso, Bellows asked for an opportunity transfer to Reseda, where several friends from his club team attended school.
A starting halfback for Reseda, which is in the championship game for the first time, Bellows' impact has been significant this season, especially during the playoffs.
"He's one of the biggest reasons we're winning," said Davila, a teammate of Bellows. "He wasn't playing that good during the regular season, but he's really come on during the playoffs."
Said Reseda Coach George Hull: "He's helped us secure our backfield and allow us to free up Terry Davila. His real strength is his ball control."
If Bellows' strength is his ball control, then his weakness on the field would be his temper. Twice this season he has been ejected from games--including last Thursday's semifinal against Monroe--for arguing with officials, and he also has been given yellow cards (a five-minute penalty) twice.
The ejection against Monroe nearly cost him the opportunity to play in tonight's 7:30 game at Westchester High. At a preseason meeting of City soccer coaches, a proposal was introduced that would have forced ejected players to sit out the next match. The proposal was never officially approved, however and the City had no ground for enforcement. This week, City officials announced that Bellows would be allowed to play.
Beyond the City final, what is ahead for Bellows?
He lacks sufficient units and will not be able to graduate in June, so he has considered attending a junior college, where he could try to pass a high school equivalency exam. Cal State Northridge has expressed interest in him playing soccer, according to Hull, but Bellows does not see himself playing for the Matadors.
"I think I'd like to get out of California. I've lived in the Valley all my life," Bellows said. "I like traveling and I think I'd like to get out and see other places."
Regardless of what he does with his future, Bellows might already have made a difference in another person's life.
"The reason we're letting the story be told is if somebody can profit from this, we'd be satisfied," Jill Bellows said.
James, the coach of Bellows' club team, said that since his experience with Bellows, he has confronted parents of players who he thought had drug problems.
"Since John, I've approached two or three parents," James said. "I approach the kid first, because it's a tough thing to do. . . . to go to a parent and tell them you think their kid has a drug problem. But it's something I've made a point to do."
Staff writer John Lynch contributed to this story.