This football season in the Southland will be remembered for the deaths of three outstanding players.
In late August, Raider safety Stacey Toran, 27, was killed in an automobile accident; last month, University of Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese, 21, from the San Diego Area, died of stomach cancer, and Friday night, Kevin Copeland, 17, of Dorsey High School died apparently of heart failure during a game against San Pedro.
Copeland's family has a history of heart problems. In 1975, his father, Ron Copeland Sr., who played football at UCLA and with the Chicago Bears, died of a heart attack at 28 after running a sprint race. Kevin's grandfather, Harold Copeland, died of heart disease a week before the death of Ron Sr.
In light of these facts, the question immediately arose: Should Kevin Copeland have been playing football?
Millicent Copeland said that she knew her son could be taking a risk by playing football. She had even taken him to doctors before he became involved in the sport, but nothing was discovered that would indicate he should not play.
The mother hoped that any heart problems had passed over Kevin and his brothers, Ron Jr. and Kyle. But Friday night, Kevin Copeland collapsed on the sideline at Daniels Field in San Pedro shortly before the end of the first quarter. He was pronounced dead at San Pedro Peninsula Hospital at 9:20 p.m.
Everyone who came in contact with Kevin Copeland knew that he was special.
He seemed to go through life as if he had a secret, because everything came so easy for him. He was an outstanding student and athlete who always greeted people warmly and had an aura about him that made it seem he was destined for greatness.
Copeland played football because he loved the game. He also had the required talent, and that combination made the sport fun to play. For him, there was football and then the other sports.
In the spring, he competed on the track, where he also excelled. As a junior, he was a state meet qualifier in the 100 and 200 meters and a member of Dorsey's state champion 400-meter relay team. However, he was quick to point out that he was just running to stay in shape for his real sport, football.
Everything he did on the football field appeared smooth and effortless, whether he was catching a pass, receiving a kick, avoiding tacklers or intercepting a pass. As a scoring threat, he was to Dorsey what Tim Brown was to Notre Dame during his Heisman Trophy season.
After being selected to the All-City team last year from a senior-led Dorsey team, Copeland figured that this would be his season. Gone from the Dons' roster were Beno Bryant, Shawn Miller, Roman Foster and Sharrief Shah. It was up to Copeland to provide Dorsey with leadership in 1989.
He had begun to assume that role last season, when he became one of the top prep receivers in the nation, catching 33 passes for more than 700 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Although seemingly quiet and mild-mannered, Copeland displayed an aggressive competitive spirit on the football field, as if every play might be his last. He never wanted an opponent to feel that they had an edge over him because he did not give his best.
His obvious talents made him a top college prospect and he was being heavily recruited by USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.
Showboating was not his style; he thought of himself merely as a hard worker who usually accomplished what he set out to do. After making an outstanding play, he would let those around him celebrate.
Now, in the aftermath of his death, Kevin Copeland has again left any emotion up to others. And for those who knew him, it will be hard to conceal.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at the Maranatha Community Church, 3800 West Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Donations may be sent in the name of Millicent Copeland to Dorsey High School, 3537 Farmdale Ave, Los Angeles 90016.
Twenty-five years ago, Whittier High upset top-ranked Loyola, 21-14, to win the Southern Section 4-A Division football title for the first and only time. With the victory, the Cardinals ended the Cubs' 35-game winning streak.
Last Friday night, that championship team was honored during Whittier's 21-17 win over town-rival California before an estimated crowd of 3,000 at California High.
Among the returning Cardinals were tight end George Buehler, who became a standout at Stanford and with the Raiders, and Bob Chandler, a star wide receiver at USC and with the Buffalo Bills and the Raiders. That season, Buehler, who now lives in the Bay Area, was Southern Section player of the year; Chandler, master of ceremonies for the reunion, was a reserve underclassman on the team.
Perhaps the most important Cardinal to return was Gary Styler, now an electrician. He came to the rescue Friday night when the game was delayed 30 minutes because of a power failure at the stadium, getting the lights back on so the game could begin.
Carson quarterback Armin Youngblood completed 10 of 14 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns in the Colts' 52-0 rout of Washington. . . . Wilmington Banning quarterback John Ma'ae passed for 232 yards while completing 15 of 28 passes in the Pilots' 42-10 victory over Narbonne of Harbor City. . . . Ivan Wilson of South Gate scored two touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards in the Rams' 14-6 win over Huntington Park. . . . Jerome Casey of Sylmar rushed for 275 yards in the Spartans' 27-3 romp over Birmingham of Van Nuys. . . . Shane Sherman of Huntington Beach Edison rushed for over 300 yards as the Chargers defeated Bellflower St. John Bosco, 48-27. . . . Roger Boden set two school records with 35 carries and 277 yards rushing as Los Altos beat Nogales, 21-14. . . . The Dorsey-San Pedro game, which was halted after the death of Kevin Copeland, will not be rescheduled unless it affects the City playoffs.
TIMES' TOP TEAMS
No. School, League Record 1. Fontana, Citrus Belt 5-0-0 2. Paramount, San Gabriel Valley 5-0-0 3. Los Altos, Sierra 5-0-0 4. Long Beach Poly, Moore 3-1-0 5. Muir, Pacific 4-0-1 6. Rubidoux, Citrus Belt 4-0-1 7. Mission Viejo, South Coast 5-0-0 8. Lompoc, Northern 5-0-0 9. Serra, Camino Real 5-0-0 10. Thousand Oaks, Marmonte 4-0-1 11. Leuzinger, Bay 4-0-1 12. Hawthorne, Bay 5-0-0 13. El Toro, South Coast 5-0-0 14. Loyola, Del Rey 4-1-0 15. Santa Monica, Bay 3-1-0
No. School, League Record 1. Carson, Pacific 2-1-0 2. Banning, Pacific 3-0-1 3. Granada Hills, North Valley 4-0-0 4. South Gate, Central 4-0-0 5. Dorsey, Pacific 1-2-0 6. Franklin, Northeast 3-1-0 7. Westchester, Metro 3-1-0 8. Sylmar, Valley East 3-0-0 9. Taft, West Valley 2-1-0 10. San Fernando, North Valley 1-2-0