TWENTY-FOUR YEARS ON THE PREP BEAT : The Issues: Big-Time Controversies Trickle Down to High School Level

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What would the wonderful world of sports be without controversy. Unfortunately, some of the major problems in professional and collegiate athletics have trickled down to the high school level.

The ever-increasing shopping of athletes and their parents for the best possible program to secure the all-important scholarship has produced its share of transfer eligibility hearings over the last 20 years.

A proposed Orange County CIF Section has been the talk of the county for the last two years and figures to heat up again in the next school term. Here are some the top issues that have threatened high schools:

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Orange County CIF Section: The proposal to form a county section in the California Interscholastic Federation may have met its final last May, but it's an idea whose time will come. If nothing else, a newly appointed Strategic Planning Commission formed to study the restructuring of the state's 10 sections will see to that.

Everyone agrees that the state's sections need to be revised. But no one can agree on how to revise them. Meanwhile, sprawling Southern Section with schools as far north as Mammoth and as far south as Calexico, has out grown out of proportion in comparison with the other nine sections.

Saddleback Unified School District superintendent Peter Hartman and his contemporaries have the right idea. County administrators are the finest in the section. Fan interest and parental support are second to none. Corporate sponsorship is here. Now, if the superintendents modify their approach, there could be a county section as early as the 1994-95 school term.

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Public vs. Private School Feud: It started innocently enough with Santa Margarita, a newly opened high school in the master-planned community of Rancho Santa Margarita in 1989. At issue is in which league this isolated private school should play.

Santa Margarita officials argued that sky rocketing transportation costs and missed class time by its student dicatate that it play with neighboring public schools. Naturally, the public schools fought back because Santa Margarita has no boundaries and has an unfair advantage in securing athletes.

What followed was more meetings, panel discussions, committee hearings and advisory board rulings than any other issue in county history. Looking back, if the public school principals had originally accepted Santa Margarita, it's likely that Servite, Mater Dei and Rosary would have remained in private school leagues.

Instead, they chose to wage a costly fight that resulted in three more private schools joining the public ranks. Further re-leaguing is scheduled for 1994-95, but the public vs. private issue will remain.

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Litigation: Twenty years ago, Ken Fagans expressed concern over the amount of time the California Interscholastic Federation was spending in court.

Fifteen years later, CIF Commissioner Thomas Byrnes recalled a day in which three attorneys flew to different parts of the state to represent the federation in court. Byrnes then reached behind his desk and produced some 30 cases filed against the CIF that year.

Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas added, "(Increasingly), the courts are doing our business. The constant challenge is from individuals who claim the governing body's rules are unfair or vague.

As the budget continues to esclate for legal fees, CIF attorney noted, "When it comes down to it, what we're really talking about here is sports. A high school game . . . In a broad social sense, we've got freeways to maintain, biology books to be bought and biology teachers to be paid. How much out of the pie do they (parents and students) want?

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Football Forfeits: This year, it was Garden Grove that faced the painful task of forfeiting games for using an ineligible player. Generally the crime is an innocent mistake.

In years past, Huntington Beach and Savanna forfeited league championships. Before that, Bolsa Grande lost a perfect season and the county's No. 1 ranking. The scenario never changes. Usually, an unknowing, ineligible player somehow slips through the cracks.

The "administrative error" is found at the end of the year, and a great season is wiped out after a meeting of league principals. The victims? The players who worked so hard for a successful season.

Emotions reached a peak in 1989 when boosters at Huntington Beach and Savanna went to court to fight a section that is supported by membership dues paid by their tax dollars. Hopefully, all involved learned a very important lesson: No one wins by suing the Southern Section.

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Dick Enright Resignation: Enright, Capistrano Valley's football coach for seven years, violated Southern Section rules by watching a 10-minute videotape of an El Toro practice four days before the teams played a key South Coast League game.

A committee later held a nine-hour hearing and recommended that Enright be suspended for the remainder of the 1987 season and the entire 1988 season. The ruling was one of the harshest penalties ever dealt by the Southern Section. Enright ended the bizarre scenario by resigning three days later.

This story had all the makings for television's movie of the week. A disgruntled former El Toro player taped the practice from a camper parked next to the field. He arrived that night at Enright's doorstep, and Enright viewed the tape.

Later that night, the spy boasted of his work in a local bar, and a former Saddleback High player now working for the California Highway Patrol overhears the story. The next day, he called El Toro Coach Bob Johnson and warned him to look out for a camper. Johnson looked outside his office and saw the camper lined up across the street. He later confronted the spy and confiscated the camera as evidence.

The nine-hour hearing took more turns than the script of the motion picture, "A Few Good Men."

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Basketball Playoff Field: Let's get real here for a moment. A basketball team with an 0-21 record has no business being in the Southern Section playoffs. But when Southern Section officials opened up the field to include all entries three years ago, some coaches took advantage of a format that has some merit, but in all practicality, just didn't work.

Thank goodness, the administrators made a quick exit and return to reality this year, limiting entry teams that finished in the top .500 of league standings. The open field format is a marvelous idea in Indiana and makes a great script for the motion picture, "Hoosiers." But it simply didn't work in California.

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Flesh Peddlers: It's sad but true that there are people making healthy profits off prep players. The biggest culprits are the privately run spring basketball leagues. Players are paying $90 to $125 to participate in eight-week leagues that are independent of the section's high schools.

Among the more profitable organizations are Rich Goldberg's American Roundball Corp's Future Stars League and Issy Washington's Basketball Congress International Slam-n-Jam League. The leagues are basically funded by shoe manufacturers who pay for facility rentals and officials fees.

The play for pay continues with more summer leagues. Sadly, the Southern Section has little or no control.

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