Richard Abbott has his own theory about how to steer kids away from gangs and juvenile delinquency.
Put them through exercise so strenuous that they will be too tired to cruise the streets looking for trouble.
That's what Abbott intends to do each Saturday when he leads a group of kids on progressively more grueling bicycle trips from Ventura.
Beginning Saturday, his new club will leave Westpark Community Center at 8 a.m. For starters, he might take them as far as Carpinteria and back. Eventually, he wants to work them up to 100-mile treks.
"The whole idea is to wear them down," said Abbott, who teaches delinquent and problem kids at Ventura's Mar Vista High School. "If they go out and do 80 miles, have a good meal, I don't think they'll be mentally receptive to someone rolling up wanting to go gang-banging," he said.
Abbott's idea for the bicycle club came from his involvement with Renewed Avenue Pride, a community action group working to upgrade the Ventura Avenue section of Ventura and provide kids with activities that steer them away from gangs.
Westpark Community Center, just off Ventura Avenue at 450 W. Harrison Ave., is sponsoring the free Saturday rides for boys and girls ages 13 to 18. The center even has a few bicycles and helmets for riders who need them.
In fact, a sweet deal awaits some kids who long to own a bike. If they log 1,000 miles in Abbott's Westpark Cyclists club, the bike they borrow becomes their own.
The center already has six bikes available--from mountain bikes to 10- and 15-speed models. They were recovered as stolen property by police and never claimed. Helmets, a must for the ride, also are available.
Abbott has high expectations for the kids. First, they have to show up at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
"Participation would preclude roaming the streets until late hours the previous night," he stated in his proposal for the program.
The first few rides would keep a 12- to 15-m.p.h. pace and cover 30 to 40 miles. Over about nine months, the riders would increase the pace to 14 to 17 m.p.h. and head for places such as Goleta and Malibu, putting in about 80 miles.
The ultimate goal would be to complete a 100-mile ride in less than seven hours, maintaining a 15-m.p.h. pace.
"That is considered a respectable achievement, and one that is suitable for entry-level racing and century-distance bicycle touring," Abbott said.
Abbott isn't naive enough to think that simple exhaustion will keep kids from getting into trouble.
"You do a good 100-mile ride on a bike and you'll feel like you've done something," he said. That feeling of accomplishment builds self-esteem. Low self-esteem drives kids toward gangs, where they find some identity, he said.
He wants youths to ask themselves, "Why do I need to hang out with gangs for? I'm pretty good at this and people look up to me."
Abbott, 55, knows a lot about bicycling as well as problem kids. He logs 200 to 300 miles a week on the yellow Maserati that he also rides to school and keeps in his classroom. He competes and is a regular participant in 100-mile races.
"It takes me 30 miles just to get warmed up," he said. He takes physical fitness seriously. He has lifted weights for nearly 40 years and enters power-lifting contests. His classroom is filled with pictures of champion weightlifters and bicyclists that he hopes will inspire his students to seek a productive life.
While he feels strongly about helping kids, he has another, equally passionate cause. He is an animal rights activist and a volunteer in the Humane Society of Ventura County. His two causes are not incompatible, he said.
"I always thought that if I worked with people to change their attitudes about themselves," he said, "then not only would they act more kindly toward other people, but that would carry over to animals."
The Port Hueneme Recreation Department is offering a daily cheerleading workshop for boys and girls during spring break, April 8-12. Children ages 9 to 11 will meet from 8 to 10 a.m. at the athletic center, 590 E. Pleasant Valley Road. Those 12 to 14 years oldwill meet from 10 a.m. to noon. Registration is at the center, and the fee for the workshop is $25. For information, call 986-6592.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Beginning Saturday, Westpark Cyclists club meets at 8 a.m. at Ventura Recreation Department's Westpark Community Center, 450 W. Harrison Ave., Ventura. For information about the free rides, call 648-1895 or 658-4734.