The edict came without warning.
Just before halftime of the football game between Westlake and El Camino Real high schools Friday night, Westlake Athletic Director Joseph Pawlick ordered me from his team’s sideline as I was compiling statistics and taking notes.
Then Westlake Principal Curt Luft reinforced the demand.
“What is the reason?” I asked repeatedly.
Luft did not respond.
Pawlick informed me he would call the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department if I did not leave immediately.
Since I forgot to bring my toothbrush and didn’t want to appear on the 11 p.m. news with the headline, “Sportswriter arrested at football game,” I let Pawlick escort me to the other sideline, where friendly El Camino Real Principal Ronald Bauer offered me sanctuary.
In more than 20 years of covering high school sports, never has a principal booted me from a football sideline.
It was news to me that I had become the enemy of Westlake High.
I’ve known Westlake Coach Jim Benkert since he was an assistant at Crespi High in the 1980s. I’ve known offensive line coach John Kidder since he was a player at Crespi and UCLA. They never objected to my presence on the sideline with other reporters and statisticians Friday night.
I’ve profiled, publicized and praised Westlake players Mike Seidman, Travis Campbell and Joe Boskovich since they were unheralded freshmen. I’ve been the guest speaker at the Westlake football banquet. Where did I go wrong?
Only Pawlick and Luft know for sure, but here’s an educated guess about what prompted their boorish behavior: They don’t like the scrutiny Westlake is receiving regarding two transfers--Michael Brignac from Reseda and Julian Lambert from Birmingham.
Brignac and Lambert live within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District but attend Westlake on interdistrict transfers, as does quarterback Zac Wasserman, their former youth football teammate.
Reseda High alleged “undue influence” was involved in Brignac’s transfer, and Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley agreed, declaring Brignac ineligible for one school year.
Last week, Birmingham Coach Dave Lertzman filed a complaint alleging “undue influence” in Lambert’s transfer. But the Southern Section rejected the claim because the school did not initially challenge Lambert’s transfer last spring and offered no new information, according to Crowley.
“When [Lambert] checked out of school, he checked out on the pretense he was moving to the Westlake area,” Lertzman said. “That’s what I thought had happened. The last couple of weeks, he’s been showing up on Thursdays at Birmingham. He’s still living in [North Hills]. It’s an amazing coincidence that all three are on interdistrict transfers.”
Westlake administrators seem to talk a different game than they play. Last year, Pawlick criticized Simi Valley because that school’s basketball team gained several transfers over a period of two seasons.
“No one is supposed to transfer for athletics,” Pawlick said last November, when Ian Boys transferred from Buena to Simi Valley.
Now athletes are similarly using interdistrict transfers to enroll at Westlake for sports reasons.
And what are Pawlick and Luft doing?
They’re chasing off sportswriters and acting an awful lot like they have something to hide.
On Monday, Pawlick told a Times editor I was banned from the Westlake sideline for refusing to answer questions at a Southern Section appeal hearing this month about Brignac’s transfer.
There’s a great strategy: Blame a reporter, change the subject, point fingers and don’t accept responsibility.
Let’s state the facts again: Wasserman and Brignac live in Tarzana, Lambert in North Hills. They played youth football together. Wasserman is a quarterback, Lambert a running back, Brignac a receiver. Hey, give them credit. They figured a way to enroll together at Westlake without living within the boundaries of the Conejo Valley Unified School District. It’s one of the all-time chutzpah moves.
There’s a fourth interdistrict transfer on the Westlake roster, linebacker Matt Warman, who played last season at Oak Park. He had every right to legally enroll at Westlake, just like Wasserman and Lambert. But anyone who doesn’t think sports was a major factor in their decision isn’t facing reality.
Truth be told, I’m hoping many more athletes transfer to Westlake by using interdistrict transfers. Perhaps then district officials will finally put an end to the shenanigans taking place.
Pete Kokon, who died last Thursday after covering high school sports for more than 60 years, would have been deeply disturbed to have witnessed a sportswriter being escorted from the sideline while doing nothing more than his job.
“Sportsmanship and probity are modeled and expected at all times by our student-athletes and coaches,” Pawlick wrote in the Westlake football program.
In his principal’s message, Luft wrote: “Let’s continue to demonstrate that Westlake High is the class of the Marmonte League.”
Lately, neither man has lived up to his words.
Eric Sondheimer’s local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.