Extended Family : For Beverly Hills High's Alumni Assn., Graduates Are Gone But Never Forgotten

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Matt Kaplan is a consultant with the World Health Organization working in Brussels, but distance couldn't keep him away from Beverly Hills High School's alumni baseball game Sunday.

"You do silly things for baseball," said Kaplan, a 1977 graduate who arrived in Los Angeles on Friday night and left Monday. "It's all part of getting back to forgetting about the real world and being a kid again."

But being a kid again is not without its embarrassments. Kaplan was reminded of this when 65-year-old Chuck Gibbon struck him out.

"First guy he's struck out in 50 years," one of Kaplan's teammates chided him when he returned to the dugout.

"He was throwing heat and had amazing control," Kaplan said after the game, putting a spin on the situation that would make a presidential campaign manager proud. "Nolan Ryan is still striking people out, and he's only a year or two older." (In fact, the oldest major leaguer is 45.)

The second annual game was the latest example of the school's outreach to its graduates. The Beverly Hills High School Alumni Assn. boasts a membership of 22,000 and claims to be the nation's largest high school alumni association.

"The school was a very exciting school from the day it opened up (in 1927)," said Justin McCarthy, the association's founding president. "I don't know anyone who releases their feelings for that school. Doing what we're doing is just keeping everything alive."

Last year, seven class reunions were staged, along with the biennial Jocks Olympics and a Memorial Day ceremony to dedicate a plaque honoring alumni who died in the service of their country. An annual alumni edition of Highlights, the school newspaper, is also published.

This year's major event is a joint reunion of the classes of winter and summer of 1942 and 1943, scheduled for Oct. 3 at the Beverly Hilton. Plans are also under way for the school's 65th anniversary celebration, June 12-13, 1993.

The activities are designed primarily for camaraderie.

"Fifty percent of the guys who come to the Jocks Olympics don't play golf or tennis--they just come to visit and remember the good times," McCarthy said of the event, which reunites graduates from the mid-1930s to mid-1940s. "It was a very special school, a very special time and we had very special teachers."

Another way the group helps preserve the school's history is through its Hall of Fame, whose members include actress Betty White and pianist-conductor Andre Previn.

The alumni association also helps contemporary students, giving $50,000 in college scholarships since 1981.

The Beverly Hills Education Foundation, the private organization that raises funds for the Beverly Hills Unified School District, also has sought to tap alumni support.

Last month, the foundation said it raised about $150,000 at its annual dinner-dance, whose theme was a salute to the high school and its graduates. The guest of honor was Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), a 1960 graduate who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Alan Cranston.

"When people have had a good experience, it just makes sense to bring them back and get them involved," said Bob Perlberg, a 1963 graduate and the foundation's board chairman.

Ironically, the alumni baseball game was conceived by a non-graduate, Bill Erickson, the school's baseball coach since 1984.

"I wanted to do something that would keep some of the people involved, and I thought it would be a way for the older former players to see what we're trying to do here," Erickson said. "I heard stories about a lot of the players from before I got here and wanted to see and meet them."

In contrast with many of the other events, fund raising is not a priority at the baseball game.

"We don't charge anybody to play," Erickson said. "We pretty much said that the booster club is trying to raise money for the athletic department and made it known that if you feel like donating money, donate it to the booster club. Some guys were pretty generous.

"It's not a huge moneymaker. We ended up making a couple of hundred bucks."

The 45 players ranged from 1940 graduate Irving Kahn to Houssan Abakater of the class of 1989. Professions included an orthopedic surgeon and a deputy sheriff who reminisced about tossing eggs onto Beverly Hills police cars.

Predictably, there was a touch of the entertainment industry present, most prominently represented by Corbin Bernsen, class of '72, who portrays divorce lawyer Arnie Becker on NBC's "L.A. Law."

"I try to support Beverly any way I can," said Bernsen, who was active in the unsuccessful 1990 effort to pass a parcel tax to increase school funding.

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