On a cloudy Friday afternoon, during the middle of an infield rundown drill, Sylmar High baseball coach Ray Rivera gathered his players for a final talk on an issue that has been on everyone's minds for several weeks — a potential teachers' strike.
"We've got guys still struggling," Rivera told his players. "We've been talking about the strike possibly on Monday. If the strike does happen, this is why we've been trying to prepare you guys. It's going to be up to you guys to get things done on your own."
Across the Los Angeles Unified School District, coaches in a variety of sports were offering final guidance to students on how to proceed if teachers begin their first strike in 30 years Monday.
United Teachers Los Angeles declared an impasse Friday after rejecting the latest proposal from LAUSD. The district said the sports season would come to a halt at 88 high schools and no practices will be allowed if there is a strike.
Students competing in sports that are in season, such as basketball and soccer, will have to find facilities off campus to stay in shape. Sports such as baseball and softball don't begin until Feb. 9, but those athletes face the same challenge — trying to stay sharp as individuals and as a team without their coaches around to provide guidance.
Van Nuys Grant basketball player Daniel O'Neil said he plans to work out at his neighborhood fitness center. Sylmar players with batting cages in their backyards can invite others, or they can join them at parks. Fairfax basketball players Robert McRae and Ethan Anderson will try to arrange workouts for teammates. Sun Valley Poly baseball coach Gabe Cerna said he would recruit his assistant principal in charge of athletes to drag the infield in his absence.
The preparations were being made as both sides blamed the other for the impasse. High school sports will take an immediate hit. The biggest City Section basketball game of the season — Westchester at Fairfax on Jan. 18 — would be postponed without a settlement.
Rivera, a special education teacher and longtime baseball coach, said he intends to be on the picket line Monday morning and will take his 14-year-old son, Jonathan, a freshman at Sylmar, with him.
He told his players: "There's going to be a point in time in your lives where you're going to have to take a stand for something. You've been paying attention to the news, paying attention to social media. A lot of people don't truly understand why teachers are doing this. A lot don't understand teachers aren't doing this just for money. We're doing it because we need you guys to be able to get more out of what they're supposedly giving us."
When Rivera asked players if they had any questions, senior Justin Zavala asked: "The teachers in the classroom talk about how this is going to benefit us. What are they talking about?"
"They're talking about classroom-size reduction," Rivera said.
Zavala said he has 41 students in his English class. Rivera brought up how the school nurse is not available five days a week, leading to uncomfortable situations when no one is available.
He told players it would be up to them whether to show up for school Monday. Campuses are expected to separate students by grades, gather them in large campus areas and offer limited instruction.
Rivera talked about "the tons of little things" not getting fixed, such as not having "a simple printer" to take care of forms.
"If we don't take a stand now, how long is it going to go on?" he said.