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Ounce of Prevention Could Save a Career

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a few hours, the Dorsey Dons will take on the Washington Generals. In a small, windowless room on the Dorsey High campus, the players are queuing up to be taped.

Offensive tackle Charles Pratt hops onto the table and sticks out one bare Size 14 foot. “Fat, flat and ugly,” deadpans Dennis McNally, Dorsey’s athletic trainer, as he deftly whips tape around the ankle.

Abdul Noah, a defensive tackle and offensive guard, has just had his hands taped. He makes like Mike Tyson, playfully poking a right uppercut into the air near McNally’s jaw. McNally doesn’t flinch.

The line grows. By game time, McNally may have taped 50 players. Most want to prevent injuries, such as an ankle sprain should a cleat stick in the turf. A few, McNally knows, “get taped just for looks.” Sort of a macho thing.

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“You’re cuttin’ off circulation!” one kid protests. McNally isn’t moved by his exaggerated attempts to flex the taped wrist. “I don’t want you coming crying to me on Monday” with an injury, he tells him.

The idea of having their own trainer is new to Dorsey athletes. Money-strapped public schools don’t have such luxuries in their budgets. McNally is a $30,000-a-year “gift” from Team HEAL (Help Enrich Athletes’ Lives), a joint project of the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital Foundation and Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, orthopedic surgeons to the sports stars.

Kerlan-Jobe’s Dr. Clarence Shields, who’s worked with the Kings, Lakers and Rams, brought the idea to the foundation. He was concerned about injury prevention and about injured students getting prompt, top-notch treatment.

Shields, who directs the two-year, $400,000 pilot program that began this Fall at Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools in South-Central Los Angeles, is often on the sidelines at football games. Having a doctor standing by is part of the Team HEAL game plan.

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Until now, he says, “There was nobody. If a child got injured, the coach would make the decision” as to the extent of the injury. Too often, Shields says, injuries went untended until one day the kid was told, “You just don’t play anymore.”

At Dorsey, where McNally works with both boys’ and girls’ athletic programs, he’s been trying to help two basketball players who had major knee ligament tears last year. “They may have lost a chance at college scholarships,” says Shields--and at lucrative pro careers.

Head football coach Paul Knox (whose ex-Dorsey Dons include UCLA’s Karim Abdul-Jabbar and USC’s Keyshawn Johnson) says that before Team HEAL, “If we had a serious injury, we called the paramedics. Having Dennis and a doctor at all games takes a big burden off of me. In the old days, I’d be worn out by the time the game started, taping 50 guys, checking equipment, taking care of injuries.”

During a game, either the doctor or McNally may be called on to help an injured opponent from a school that has no Team HEAL. McNally comes to games with splints, cervical collars, stethoscope, blood pressure kit and crutches. “Everyone else is watching the football,” he says. “I’m looking at every play to see if somebody is down.”

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McNally, 28, comes to Team HEAL from Pennsylvania, with a degree in physical education from Temple University and certification by the National Athletic Trainers Assn.

He’s also part psychiatrist. Watching as an angry Don paced the sidelines, mouthing obscenities about being sidelined because of a recent concussion, McNally put an arm around the kid’s padded shoulder. “Look,” he said, “I don’t want you dropping dead on my field and the coach doesn’t want you dropping dead on his team, either.”

Shields uses connections to get braces and other equipment for kids who can’t afford them. The students often have no private medical insurance, Shields says, and “A lot of doctors don’t want to take care of these kids.” At the sports medicine clinic of Orthopaedic Hospital, where he’s on staff, they may be treated pro bono.

As part of the pilot program, Los Angeles Police Department officers are volunteering violence-prevention watches at Dorsey and Crenshaw games. (So far this season, there have been no major incidents.)

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Team HEAL hopes for another positive spinoff. A handful of students are working under the trainers. Shields hopes to see this expanded, “to expose kids to other career fields.” Few, he knows, are going to make the athletic big-time.

He Keeps Going and

Going and Going . . .

At the Hollywood YMCA, a bunch of the boys--and a girl or two--are whooping it up.

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Albert Brown’s pals have come to say happy birthday on his 90th. There are a few bawdy jokes and a few bad jokes--"He’s so old he was a busboy at the Last Supper.”

Brown, a retired dentist who plays handball every day at the Y, wipes away tears as he slices into a cake decorated with a miniature basketball court and tiny plastic players. (In college, he’d been a hoop star.)

It isn’t sentiment that has gotten to him. It is a mention of the Bataan Death March. Brown survived the infamous 70-mile trek to Japanese prison camps in the Philippines in 1942. “I just got a flashback,” he apologizes.

The boys are giving him bear hugs and saying nice things. Ralph Portnor, 75, who was once “the radio voice of champagne music,” says, “When you have friendship with Doc Brown, you have real social security.”

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A role model, agrees pal Pat Small, 80, a retired attorney who’s played handball with Brown for 25 years (usually losing). “He greets everybody every morning with an outstretched hand.”

Paul Gersten, 50, has had to give up handball. “I ended up totally devastating my knee, but he’s still going strong.”

“Not strong, but going,” Brown corrects him. He plays daily but, this being his birthday, he “took the day off.”

Ray Conn, 82, a retired doctor who no longer plays, confides Brown’s secret: “He just stands there on the court and if the ball comes to him, he hits it. Otherwise, it’s up to his partner.”

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True, adds Small: “He can’t run. But if he gets the ball, he can kill it.”

It isn’t just his years or his gentle manner that make Brown special. Consider that Buffalo Bill Cody was his godfather--"He used to rock me to sleep” back home in Nebraska.

And there was Bataan. How did he survive? “When you saw somebody’s head being chopped off, it stirred up the juices and kept you going.”

As a POW, he suffered a broken back and could never again practice dentistry. Extraordinary, said Earl Kass, 69, “to come out of that without hate and resentment and to be as gentle as he is.”

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Always upbeat. “And he’s a fabulous dancer,” says longtime friend Theresa Smith. Girlfriend? Smith, 87, just smiles and says, “I love the word girl .”


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