Column: Coaches and athletes will be among those most affected by an LAUSD teacher strike
With four future major-league draft choices on his roster and his team the clear favorite to win the City Section championship, Bob Lofrano had every incentive not to go on strike 30 years ago when he was the baseball coach at Chatsworth High. Parents thought his loyalty should rest with his players and team.
“I remember standing outside on De Soto Avenue with a picket sign on my shoulder,” he recalled.
Parents were furious. They suggested an assistant coach take over but the principal said no one but Lofrano was going to coach the team.
“We’re the ones on the front line because we do the extracurricular activities,” he said. “You hate to take that away from the kids, but it is our profession and if it improves our profession, so be it. You have an obligation to your fellow teachers.”
If United Teachers Los Angeles goes through with its planned strike on Thursday against the Los Angeles Unified School District, you can expect the high school sports season to come to a halt. Teacher/coaches are not going to cross picket lines even if they know their teams will be adversely affected.
“I didn’t feel you could be on the picket line and then coach your team,” Lofrano said of the nine-day strike in 1989. “You’re either all in or not.”
The LAUSD is scheduled to send out a memo to high school principals on Monday on the policy for the sports programs, and all signs indicate no athletics will take place if a strike is called. There’s the distinct possibility practices won’t be allowed after school because of supervision issues.
The basketball and soccer seasons will be immediately affected. Playoffs could be jeopardized depending on how long a strike lasts. The West Valley League has its first league games Wednesday. The priority would be to finish the City Section playoffs even if that means teams wouldn’t be eligible for state playoffs if there is an extended strike. That would not be good news for Westchester and Fairfax, two of the top basketball teams in the state.
“I’ve never had this happen before, but I certainly want to play in my senior year,” Fairfax All-City guard Ethan Anderson said. “I would never imagine this. When I first heard, I didn’t think they would do it.”
The two sides are scheduled to have a bargaining session Monday.
Most interesting is that independent charter schools would be allowed to keep playing. Their teachers have separate contracts with their schools. That means Friday’s scheduled games between Birmingham and host El Camino Real in basketball and soccer will be played.
“I feel sympathy for everybody affected by a strike,” Birmingham basketball coach Nick Halic said. “It sucks for the kids but it has to be done.”
What’s different from 30 years ago is that 61% of coaches in the LAUSD are walk-ons. They probably won’t be on any picket line. And UTLA hasn’t exactly been helpful representing coaches. The 1989 stipends for coaches were around $2,650. This season, the head football coach was paid $2,811. That’s more an embarrassment than an accomplishment.
If you see the football coaches at Garfield, Narbonne and Crenshaw on the picket lines, they’ll be the ones getting attention from TV cameras because people want to know what the coaches think. They’re the ones well known in the community.
Studio City Harvard-Westlake athletic director Matt LaCour said he will be joining his wife Patty on the picket line. She teaches eighth-grade history at Millikan Middle School. “You can’t expect them to get good test scores with 50 students in a class,” he said.
The strike in the spring of 1989 ended just in time to let the baseball playoffs take place. Chatsworth was upset in the semifinals. Lofrano resigned and became a teacher and baseball coach at Pierce College, never to return to LAUSD.
“As an old baseball guy, a strike is no good unless it’s over the plate consistently,” he said.
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