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THE TOP 10 STORIES : List Won’t Make Letterman, but It’s Story of ’93

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From weathering rainstorms to withering athletic budgets . . . on-the-field heroics to off-the-field squabbles . . . and long runs to long home runs, here is one man’s list of the top 10 regional sports stories of 1993:

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1 Walt Ker, the highly successful women’s volleyball coach at Cal State Northridge from 1979-92, announced his resignation Jan. 7 after compiling a 401-144 record and leading the Matadors to their first NCAA Division I playoff appearance in 1992.

Ker cited “family considerations” for his decision, but it was later learned that two members of the 1992 team filed a written complaint accusing him of sexual harassment. In addition, former players asserted that in the 1980s Ker had consensual sexual relations with team members.

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Ker denied the allegations of sexual harassment and declined to comment on the charges that he had relations with his players. Nevertheless, the allegations cast a pall over a successful program and threw recruiting efforts into disarray. The allegations also spotlighted the fine line that coaches must walk--the line between personal, compassionate coaching and abusing the trust they develop with their athletes.

After five candidates for Ker’s job either turned down the position or declined to be interviewed, the school selected John Price, the Matador men’s volleyball coach since 1986, to direct the women’s program on a one-year interim basis.

Northridge compiled a disappointing 12-17 record under Price before Lian Kang Lu, an assistant women’s coach at UC Santa Barbara for the past 10 seasons and one of the founding fathers of China’s women’s volleyball team, was hired Dec. 8 to take over the Matador program, effective Jan. 1.

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2 Cal State Northridge’s first football season at the NCAA Division I-AA level was overshadowed by persistent off-the-field controversies.

University President Blenda J. Wilson shocked football supporters in the spring when she said that the sport might be dropped, despite recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel to retain it.

Wilson eventually decided to keep the program, but Coach Bob Burt and Athletic Director Bob Hiegert weathered several more storms before the end of the season.

The first came during the week before the Matadors’ Sept. 4 opener against San Diego State when Patrick Johnson, president of Northridge’s Black Student-Athlete Assn., quit the team.

According to Burt, Johnson quit because he was unhappy with being converted from outside linebacker to nose guard, but Johnson denied that, citing dissatisfaction with the amount of financial support the school’s student-athletes receive.

Three weeks later, several members of the BSAA, including some former football players, displayed picket signs that characterized Burt as a plantation owner and a pimp during Northridge’s 39-0 victory over Sonoma State.

Things really got interesting the week of Oct. 3-9.

On Monday, most of the players boycotted practice to protest the lack of a meal plan for Northridge athletes.

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Hiegert met with the team Tuesday and warned players that those who chose not to practice or play in games ran the risk of being stripped of their scholarships. He added that the football program could be discontinued if there were not enough players on the team to ensure the safety and health of those who remained.

The BSAA later filed a complaint against Hiegert, accusing him of “swearing at the team” and “being demeaning and racially insensitive” during the meeting, but Northridge Vice President Ronald Kopita cleared Hiegert of any wrongdoing after listening to a tape of the meeting.

On Thursday, Burt suspended cornerback Vincent Johnson for a game because he cursed Hiegert during a meeting of the school’s Athletic Congress, and on Friday, free safety Gerald Ponder protested Johnson’s suspension by refusing to make the trip to Nevada Las Vegas, where Northridge defeated the Rebels, 24-18, on Saturday night.

Ponder’s actions initially earned him an “indefinite suspension” from the team, but Burt later reduced it to one game.

In late October, an emergency review of grant packages for 51 Northridge athletes resulted in additional funding for 18 of them and possible loans for several others.

The news was less encouraging in early December, however. A five-member panel of Northridge administrators and students submitted a report to Kopita stating that NCAA rules governing team and individual aid limits might thwart efforts to implement a meal plan for the school’s athletes.

All of which makes one wonder what lies ahead for the Northridge football team next season, or if there will be a next season.

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3 One of the most incomprehensible decisions of the year was made June 5 when the finals of the state high school track and field championships at Cerritos College were canceled because of rain.

The California Interscholastic Federation rescheduled the meet for June 19 after being lambasted for its hasty decision, but the whole incident left a bitter taste in the mouths of track athletes, coaches and fans of the sport.

State Commissioner Thomas Byrnes canceled the meet at 1:45 p.m. on June 5 after reviewing the recommendation of a five-member track advisory committee. The committee, which included then-City Section Commissioner Hal Harkness and Southern Section administrator Dean Crowley, said that “substantial numbers of adverse conditions existed that would place in jeopardy the health and safety of the competing student-athletes.”

Enraged athletes and coaches contended that the meet could have been conducted on Cerritos’ all-weather facility even had the rain continued. They were further angered because it stopped raining one hour before the meet was scheduled to start at 3.

The sun came out shortly thereafter and by 4 o’clock, weather conditions were ideal and the track was drying out, according to several coaches at Cerritos.

“I can’t believe the stupidity of this decision,” Reseda Coach Steve Caminiti said. “It’s ridiculous. Collectively, you could add up the IQ of the people on that committee and I’ll bet it would be less than 100. And I don’t understand what the rush was to make a decision. Why couldn’t they have waited another hour or two to see what the weather was going to do?”

On June 9, a representative from the Central Coast Section approached Byrnes with a proposal to hold the meet at Cerritos, and the next day, it was officially rescheduled for June 19. Nearly 90% of the athletes competed in the newly scheduled meet.

“I’m not sure if we can expect as much out of the kids in terms of performance, but I’m glad it’s going to take place,” Agoura Coach Bill Duley said. “I think it shows what can happen if enough people voice their opinions about something.”

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4 Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team, in its first appearance in the NCAA Division I Final Four, advanced to the championship match before losing to UCLA, 15-8, 15-11, 15-10.

Northridge, which posted a 23-10 record during its eighth season under Coach John Price, finished third behind UCLA and Pepperdine in the Mountain Division of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings during the regular season, but the Matadors caught fire in postseason play.

They began the MPSF tournament with a four-game victory over USC, a team that beat them in 26 of their previous 27 matches.

The Matadors followed that with a four-game victory over third-ranked Pepperdine in the semifinals before sweeping Cal State Long Beach, 15-13, 15-8, 15-10, in the final.

After being awarded the “at-large” berth in the Final Four at UCLA, Northridge defeated Penn State in the semifinals, 15-2, 15-5, 15-11, before losing to 14-time champion UCLA in the final.

Axel Hager, one of two Northridge players with a team-high 25 kills, lamented the Matadors’ loss, but admitted that the Bruins were the superior team.

“I’m disappointed, but I have to admit, UCLA is the better team,” Hager said. “We had our chance to win a game, but couldn’t.”

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5 The Newbury Park High football team capped a perfect season with a 22-14 come-from-behind victory over defending champion Hawthorne in the Southern Section Division III title game Dec. 11 at Moorpark College.

Playing on a rain-soaked field before an estimated crowd of 7,000, Newbury Park trailed, 14-0, at halftime. But quarterback Keith Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran 98 yards for another score in the second half to complete the Panthers’ 14-0 campaign.

Leodes Van Buren, the state’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yardage, made a huge defensive play early in the fourth quarter when he stopped Hawthorne running back Kalisi Moala for no gain on fourth and one at the Newbury Park two-yard line.

Two plays later, Smith dropped back to pass, rolled right to avoid the rush, and then took off on a 98-yard scoring run in which he zigged and zagged past several defenders.

Smith, the state’s all-time leading passer with 9,971 yards, completed 16 of 34 passes for 259 yards and ran for 157 yards in 15 carries.

“I’ve dreamed about this since the ninth grade,” Smith said. “Me and (senior receiver Jason Tucker) always used to say, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if we were champs our senior year.’ ”

It would and they are.

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6 The Thousand Oaks High boys’ cross-country team was ranked third in the nation by Harrier magazine after completing an undefeated season that was capped by record-setting victories in the Division I races of the Southern Section and state championships.

Thousand Oaks, led by individual champion Brandon Del Campo, crushed runner-up Santa Ana, 32-82, in the Southern Section final at Mt. San Antonio College on Nov. 20. The Lancers’ team time--the cumulative time of their top five runners--of 77 minutes 56 seconds beat the previous three-mile course best of 77:58 set by Sacramento Jesuit in 1985.

Thousand Oaks set two records in the state championships at Fresno’s Woodward Park as Jeff Fischer, Del Campo and Kevin Marsden finished third, fourth and fifth to help the Lancers to a 23-point total that lowered the previous Division I best of 39 set by Camarillo in 1989.

Their team time of 77:59 over the 5,000-meter course shaved 24 seconds off the previous mark set by El Monte Arroyo in 1987.

Although top-ranked Mead High of Spokane, Wash., lopped 39 seconds off Thousand Oaks’ record team time in the Foot Locker West regional Dec. 4, many experts regard the Lancers as the state’s top team over the past 20 years.

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7 Pierce defeated L.A. Harbor, 23-0, in a Western State Conference football game Sept. 25 at Wilmington, but there were no winners shortly thereafter when a brawl broke out near the teams’ locker rooms.

Three Pierce coaches were injured during the melee, which wasn’t brought under control until 50 law enforcement officers and a police helicopter arrived at the scene.

Pat Swift, an offensive line coach, suffered the most serious injury when he was knocked unconscious after a Harbor player hit him over the head with an aluminum crutch.

Harbor player Dion Mills, 19, was charged with one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon for reportedly hitting Swift over the head with the crutch.

After nearly a week of investigations, WSC Commissioner Aviva Kamin penalized the Harbor football team and exonerated Pierce. Harbor was put on probation through the 1994 season and banned from postseason play in 1993 and ’94. Kamin also instructed Harbor to file with the conference office a weekly written report after each football game outlining, among other things, the behavior of its staff and students at games.

The penalties were in addition to Harbor’s decision to suspend its football program for a week and four players--including Mills--from the team. The team also forfeited its Oct. 2 game to West L.A.

Despite the WSC findings that cleared Pierce of any wrongdoing, West L.A. Coach Rob Hager suggested that the Brahmas were not blameless in the fight and called Pierce Coach Bill Norton a “common thug.”

Hager, who was not witness to the brawl, based his opinion on a confrontation that he and some of his assistants had with the Brahma staff while scouting the 1992 Harbor-Pierce game at Pierce. He said Norton, through one of his assistants, ordered the Harbor coaches off the sidelines and threatened them.

Norton admitted that a Pierce assistant heatedly told Hager and his people to leave the field, but only after making the request politely with no results.

“They were in our team area,” Norton said. “We sent someone over to ask them to leave and they chose to stay. Rob Hager has what is called selective memory. Some of his coaches were threatening my coaches during the game.”

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8 Led by the hitting of Beth Calcante and the pitching of Kathy Blake, the Cal State Northridge women’s softball team advanced to the Division I College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., for the first time.

Although the fifth-place finish was disappointing for a team that was ranked second in the final regular-season poll, the Matadors (48-9-1) could take pride in a season during which they won their first Western Athletic Conference title and their first Division I regional championship.

Their No. 2 national ranking was also the program’s highest since moving to the Division I level during the 1990-91 school year.

Northridge’s home run total of 40--no doubt bolstered by the use of a brighter-colored and livelier ball--broke the NCAA record for home runs at any level (36 by Division II Virginia Union in 1992) as well as the most by a Division I team (Texas A&M; hit 29 in 1985).

Calcante (first team), Scia Maumausolo (first team) and Blake (third team) became the first Matadors to earn All-American softball honors at the Division I level.

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9 Catcher Nate Dishington of Hoover High, pitcher Jeff Suppan of Crespi, infielder Brad Fullmer of Montclair Prep and shortstop David Lamb of Newbury Park were all chosen in the second round of major league baseball’s amateur draft June 3.

Dishington (St. Louis Cardinals) and Lamb (Baltimore Orioles) received bonuses of $200,000--not counting money for schooling if they decide to attend college--when they signed. Suppan was paid $190,000 for signing with the Boston Red Sox. Fullmer, however, hit the jackpot with a $417,500 payoff from the Montreal Expos.

The amount was the largest signing bonus ever for a second-round draft pick and ended 98 days of negotiations between the Expos and Fullmer, who had been offered an athletic scholarship to Stanford.

“It was a tough decision the whole time,” Fullmer said. “I can’t say enough good things about Stanford. It’s an outstanding university and a great program.”

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10 Antelope Valley High finished the regular season Nov. 12, but the Antelopes and Coach Brent Newcomb rode an emotional roller-coaster the following week as they went from being in, to out, to back in the Southern Section Division I football playoffs.

Antelope Valley (8-2), which finished second in the Golden League standings with a 4-1 record, was initially scheduled to play host to Fontana in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 19.

The Antelopes were removed from postseason play Nov. 16 when school administrators informed the Southern Section that an ineligible player had participated in league victories over Highland, Littlerock and Ridgecrest Burroughs.

Antelope Valley’s record dropped to 5-5 overall, and 1-4 in league play, giving Burroughs the league’s third--and final--playoff berth.

Principals from the six Golden League schools met two days later, however, and decided by a 5-1 vote that the punishment was too stiff. The Antelopes should be allowed back in the playoffs, they said.

The Southern Section supported the principals’ vote the next day and Antelope Valley opened the playoffs with a 24-0 victory at Fontana on Nov. 20. The Antelopes followed that with a 21-7 upset of top-seeded Bishop Amat in the quarterfinals, ending a 26-game winning streak, before losing to Mater Dei, 15-11, in the semifinals.


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