A football power in the 1970s, Lakewood High School has not had a winning record since 1983. Don't expect much better from the Lancers this season.
In the past few weeks Lakewood has:
* Lost a head coach.
* Lost its well-known quarterback coach, who reportedly turned down an offer to become head coach, then departed for a head baseball coaching job in Orange County.
* Hired a new coach two days before his honeymoon.
* Been assigned a new principal.
In the last decade busing in the Long Beach Unified School District, which includes Lakewood High, also has had an impact on the football field. The once-powerful Lancers are 13-34 over the past five years.
Lakewood High opened in 1957. Civic pride in the school was high from the start. Students lived within walking distance of the campus along tree-lined, post-World War II planned streets of single-story, single-family homes.
But a successful school district busing plan instituted in the 1970s to achieve racial integration eliminated the local flavor that many Lakewood residents embraced.
"It's a commuter school now. There is no sense of community pride," said Tim Miltenberger, a Lakewood graduate who coached at the school for 11 years.
According to the school's coaching staff, fewer and fewer parents have shown an interest in supporting the football program. The school's football booster club, once a powerful force in the city, folded a decade ago. Part of the reason, coaches say, is that a large percentage of parents whose children attend Lakewood live and work outside the city.
"Busing changed the balance of athletics in the schools," said former Lakewood coach John Ford.
This fall, according to school district records, 42% of Lakewood's student body will be bused from outside the city. Many of the students come from families in faraway ends of expansive Long Beach.
The district also changed the attendance boundaries for its five high schools. Jordan High to the west now gets some students from the city of Lakewood. In the aging northern and eastern sections of Lakewood, students attend Artesia or Mayfair high schools, which belong to two different school districts.
Busing for integration has presented unique problems for extracurricular programs.
"Some of the kids in the past that were bused into Lakewood lived in neighborhoods where they wanted to be home before dark," said Mark Rose, Lakewood's new coach. "Let's face it, they didn't have time to play football."
Rose, 30, a graduate of Wilson High, is the third football coach in the past three years at Lakewood.
Hired three weeks before the season began, Rose was an assistant to Miltenberger, who resigned in early August to become an assistant at Laguna Hills High School. Miltenberger rejoins an old friend, second-year Laguna Coach Steve Bresnahan, the last man to coach a winning season at Lakewood. Bresnahan guided Lakewood to the semifinals of the Southern Section Big Five playoffs with a 10-2 record in 1983.
According to several sources who asked not to be named, Pete Tereschuk, the popular Lakewood High quarterback coach and a record-setting Lancer quarterback from 1970-72, was offered the Lakewood head job by outgoing principal Don Hopkins when Miltenberger resigned. Tereschuk turned it down, citing personal reasons. Rose, the school's track and field coach, was appointed two days before his wedding.
Rose honeymooned in Hawaii, returning four days before football practice began. While Rose was gone, Tereschuk abruptly quit at Lakewood to become the baseball coach at Laguna Hills, the fifth former Lakewood coach or administrator to go to that school.
Short of staff, Rose, a full-time teacher, has had to hire walk-on coaches. That has presented problems. At a morning practice last month, only Rose and two full-time assistants were there for the varsity, which numbered about 70, and only two coaches were available to work with the same number of underclassmen on a different field.
Rose said the district has not allowed him to replace Miltenberger or Tereschuk, both of whom held full-time teaching jobs. Consequently, he has hired "a few" walk-ons, but they hold other jobs, which means they can't make all the practice sessions.
The enthusiastic Rose, son of Jack Rose, former Cal State Long Beach track coach, admitted that the Lakewood football program needs an overhaul.
"We haven't had the years Lakewood would have liked to have," he said.
Since the Bresnahan era, the Lancers have not finished above .500, although the team advanced to the Southern Section playoffs twice under Coach Gene Melvin.
According to sources close to the football program, Lakewood suffered from a lack of discipline during the stormy four-year tenure of Melvin, who succeeded Bresnahan. Melvin, now an assistant at Millikan High, reportedly had difficulty building rapport with his players and the sources said he had difficulty relating to a much younger assistant coaching staff.
Melvin claims he was never allowed to hire his own staff. He also said he never received support from the school's Administration, especially Hopkins. In Melvin's final season, the younger staff claims to have resigned. Melvin says that he fired two and demoted two others because of "insubordination and lack of loyalty."
"There was this bitterness that started, and it never let up," he said. "I was beating my head against the wall. People were forced on me that didn't see things the way I saw them."
The Lancers were 11-27 under Melvin, who was followed by Miltenberger (2-7). Those marks were a far cry from the days when the popular Ford was coach.
Coach Ford's Team-Building
Now a part-time assistant at Long Beach City College, Ford came to Lakewood in 1962 and built one of the most feared Moore League programs. He loved the small-town atmosphere of Lakewood (he still lives in the same Lakewood home). It's still hard to talk about Lancer football without hearing his name.
Ford was from the old school. Lakewood High players shaved their heads because Ford hated long hair. He used the city's youth football program as a farm system, installing in those teams the high school's offense and defense. By the time a youngster from Lakewood became a sophomore at the high school, he knew what was expected of him. In contrast, the school district has only a flag football program for its junior high schools.
Ford resigned his coaching job in 1979 when a new school Administration told him he could not order players to cut their hair. He was transferred to a continuation school, where he still teaches. The "skinhead" era came to a close. Ford left with a 105-61-2 record, the best record of any coach at the school.
Rose would like to see Lakewood football return to its glory days, but he is convinced the school will never be as big a part of the community as it once was.
Rose says he hopes to build a "foundation" from which Lakewood football can rise again.
'Put Some Discipline Back'
"I want to try to put some discipline back in the program. I want the kids to be responsible, to be at practice on time, to get good grades and know where they belong."
Lakewood plays a difficult preseason schedule, which begins Friday night at home against Warren High.
Miltenberger said Lakewood has "a good junior class" that will be a factor in the Moore League next year. Melvin said the Lancers can be competitive this season if they "get a staff that is cohesive and has administrative support."
A key to success for Rose, Miltenberger said, is to "convince athletes that Lakewood can be a football school again."
'Today's Kids Know Only Losing'
"The better athletes wouldn't come out for football," Miltenberger said. "They didn't want to be on a loser. Kids only remember three to four years at a time. Today's kids know only losing. (Rose) will have to rebuild from that."
Rose said Lakewood will "return to real basic stuff" this season. It won't be like the old-fashioned 5-2 defense that Ford championed, but don't look for the Lancers to try anything fancy.
"Fundamentals," Rose said. "Ten years from now I want these players to look back on their time at Lakewood and say, 'I really had a good time.' "
In Ford's day, Lakewood played its home games at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach and drew crowds of more than 10,000. Today, on their campus field, the Lancers are lucky to get 2,500.
Time has changed a lot at Lakewood High.