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Column: Coaches in LAUSD are doing heroic work to keep kids focused

Banning High football players work out last month, when L.A. Unified was still allowing teams to engage in conditioning.
(Banning High football)

Let me offer a sincere “thank you” to every individual who has volunteered their time to be a coach in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The sacrifices you’ve made, the resiliency you’ve demonstrated, the refusal not to quit when confronted with weekly moments of frustration and disappointment — the kids need you more than ever.

Wilmington Banning football coach Raymond Grajeda reminded me just how challenging it has been for coaches going on the 10th month of campuses being closed for classes and high school sports on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been the toughest task we’ve had,” he said.

Since March, he’s met with his players seven times, when the district briefly allowed conditioning to take place last month.

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“Trying to get a grip on these kids is difficult,” he said. “Keeping these guys motivated for the City Section is next to impossible. It’s like false tales. We’re going to get an answer by October. We didn’t get an answer. OK, guys, we got good news. We might be able to work out in November. We’re going to go for two weeks and condition, then they shut us down.

“It’s been a lot of false tales. We get excited, then deflated, excited, then deflated. That’s been the story.”

In Zoom calls, coaches try to encourage their players to stay motivated, stay fit and stay positive. If they’re not offering hope, no one is.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed gyms and forced postponement of annual basketball tournaments.

Incredibly, they’re also not getting paid for any time spent with players outside of regularly scheduled classes. Not that they coach for the meager $2,811 stipend, but it is really volunteer work; stipends don’t get paid until the season begins. They really are coaching because of a passion for sports and satisfaction of helping their students succeed.

Parents are losing patience. Those with financial means are turning to club programs, because those teams are practicing and even playing games outside of California.

Meanwhile, the LAUSD coaches are doing their best to remind players there’s still time to play, but they have to remain focused on school to be eligible and keep working out on their own.

“That’s all we can do,” Grajeda said. “Work with what we got and work with what they give us. We’re just going to have to wait and let the process happen. As soon as they say, ‘Start,’ we’re definitely going to be ready.”

Austin Beutner, the LAUSD superintendent, has insisted there won’t be any sports competitions until it’s safe enough for students to return to the classroom, so good luck on making a prediction for any sports comeback.

It’s left to coaches to pick up the pieces and find ways to help kids to stick it out in a time of adversity.

One longtime football coach said: “After this is over, I sure hope we are appreciated just a little more than $2,811.”


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