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Stepping Out With the Big Boys : Ready or Not, Highland and Littlerock Highs Will Field Their First Varsity Football Teams

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Highland and Littlerock high schools will begin varsity football programs this season. But the Antelope Valley schools, entering their third year of existence, are not strangers to athletic competition.

About 2,000 spectators attended a Highland-Littlerock sophomore football game at Antelope Valley High last year and, evidently, it left a lasting impression.

“There were three newspapers covering us, one radio station was there, and one of the Antelope Valley College coaches was on the sideline,” said Lin Parker, Highland’s coach. “I kept saying, ‘Can you believe this is only a sophomore game?’ There was even a fight at the snack bar--just like a real game.”

Although neither school has a senior class, the Highland Bulldogs and Littlerock Lobos are fielding varsity teams in 16 sports this school year. Both schools opened in the fall of 1989 with only freshman classes.

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The schools will compete on a free-lance basis. They are expected to join what will become a realigned Golden League in the fall of 1992.

Parker and Jim Bauer, Littlerock’s football coach, began filling game dates last year in anticipation of their inaugural varsity football schedules.

“We scheduled kind of a mixture of teams that we think we should beat, teams that will be real competitive, and teams we know we will have to struggle against,” Parker said.

Parker, 47, an Antelope Valley native who also serves as Highland’s athletic director, is hoping the balanced scheduling will help prepare the team for its future in the competitive Golden League.

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“If this was a weak football area, (the scheduling) wouldn’t be that critical, but Antelope Valley (High) has four (Southern Section) titles, Canyon had three in a row and Quartz Hill was in the final (last year). We figure we have to be ready in ’92 when our boys are seniors.”

Littlerock will make its varsity debut Sept. 14 at Serrano High and Highland will visit Rancho Verde in Moreno Valley. In successive weeks, Highland will travel as far north as Mammoth and as far south as Carlsbad, where the team will play Army-Navy Academy. Paraclete and Littlerock are Highland’s only Valley-area opponents. Littlerock has scheduled area teams Calabasas (away) and St. Genevieve (home).

Neither school has been able to move into its permanent classroom structure. Highland, located on the school grounds of Quartz Hill High, will have moved three times when it settles into its permanent home at 25th Street West in Palmdale on Tuesday.

“We’ve been in limbo,” Parker said. “It’s been an adventure every day.”

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In the meantime, the Highland players are waiting for 30 acres of sod and hydro-seed to mature into grass before they can practice on school grounds. The Bulldogs, who do not have a stadium, will play its home games at Quartz Hill and Palmdale.

Littlerock has conducted classes in temporary classrooms on its permanent site since the school’s inception but construction complications have postponed the move-in date until early winter.

Littlerock’s home field accommodates only 300 people in portable bleachers, but Lobo fans have brought out lawn chairs and barbecues for the afternoon sophomore games.

Despite their free-lance status, Highland and Littlerock are eligible for playoff consideration, provided they post winning records. Southern Section officials will evaluate their records and strength of schedule at the end of the regular season and, if the schools qualify, place them in an appropriate division.

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Both schools will take a huge jump in 1992 if they move into the Golden League, which currently competes in Division I, the Southern Section’s top division. Both schools will have the enrollment, if not the athletic experience, to make the jump.

Littlerock opened its doors in the fall of 1989 to a freshman class of about 350 students. A year later, 350 more enrolled. Nearly 750 freshmen will crowd the high school this year, vaulting the enrollment to approximately 1,500.

The numbers are even higher at Highland, where enrollment is more than 1,800. That figure includes a freshmen class of more than 800, which ranks as the largest freshmen class ever in the Antelope Valley School District.

Neither school is wanting for football prospects. Of the 680 students in the freshman class at Highland in 1989, 95 tried out for the football team. The numbers were similar at Littlerock. This season there are approximately 220 students filling three levels of teams at Littlerock.

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Finding proper equipment has proved problematic. Neither school is equipped with normal weight-training rooms and other amenities of established programs, Parker said. Over the past two seasons, Parker has purchased a used sled from Antelope Valley High and a used tackling machine from Antelope Valley College. Someone donated weights to the program.

Bauer, 40, formerly an assistant at Royal High, Moorpark College and Cal Lutheran, has faced similar problems.

“Educators and coaches are very flexible and creative people, and when we’re faced with problems we find a way to overcome,” Bauer said.

Still, the coaches say there are advantages in starting a program from the bottom up.

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“Players know the offense and defense, they know the expectations, and they know what they can and can’t do without getting in the doghouse with the coaches,” Parker said.

There are negatives, however.

“There are no older role models--no varsity lettermen--for those younger kids to look up to,” Parker said. “There’s no one to say, ‘Hey, that’s not cool. That’s not how a varsity athlete behaves.’ ”

But ready or not, varsity athletes they are.

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