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PUT BLAME WHERE IT BELONGS.

Byline: VINCENT BONSIGNORE Local

Birmingham High football coach Dave Lertzman has a valid complaint about City Section athletes transferring to Southern Section schools.

This year alone, Lertzman lost running back Julian Lambert to Westlake while San Fernando watched Devin Montgomery, Reggie Kinlaw and Bryson Atkins walk off to Alemany. The list seems to grow each year. It's hard to compete when your best players desert you.

But Lertzman is misguided when he blames Southern Section coaches or even the parents of some players for the defections.

If he wants to blame anybody, he needs only look at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The same governing body that dragged its feet on giving LAUSD coaches a raise operates in the dark ages when it comes to supporting its schools' athletic programs. If serious improvements aren't made, the problem will get worse before it gets better.

Open enrollment and inter-district transfers will see to that. Now that parents have choices, can we blame them for shopping around to find the best situation - academically, socially and athletically - for their kids?

That's what Westlake quarterback Zac Wasserman did when he decided to attend a school 15 miles away from his home in Tarzana. The same goes for teammates Lambert and Michael Brignac.

That was the intent of open enrollment: To give parents choices. And really, isn't that the American way?

If City Section schools - or any school that loses students and athletes to transfer - have a problem with that, maybe they should look in the mirror and ask themselves why their kids are leaving. If they answer honestly, maybe they'll make the necessary improvements to curtail the exodus.

Lertzman can blame Wasserman's father all he wants for orchestrating Lambert's departure, but if Westlake is offering something better than Birmingham in terms of athletics, coaching and academics, then maybe Lertzman needs to talk to his administration and the LAUSD about making some overdue upgrades.

Don't misunderstand, this has nothing to do with Lertzman. He is a good coach doing the best he can under difficult circumstances. We applaud him for that.

Unfortunately, at this time Birmingham doesn't compare favorably to programs like Westlake or Notre Dame or Thousand Oaks. The fact is, Southern Section schools offer more coaching, better facilities and superior funding and support.

Here is an example: Two weeks ago, El Camino Real played at Westlake. In the Warriors' coaches booth upstairs in the press box, three coaches were there to analyze the game and offer suggestions via headsets to coaches on the sideline.

In the El Camino Real booth, there were three empty seats and two unused headsets.

There are reasons for this: First, City Section teams are (under) staffed by a head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. Most of the time, all three stay on the sideline. Secondly, even if they wanted to coach upstairs, most City schools don't have the press box facilities to accommodate them.

At Westlake, and most other Southern Section schools, the support system consists of a head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and individual position coaches. If you're counting, that's more than double their City Section counterparts. That means players get specific, one-on-one attention for the position they play. And just about all of these schools have modern press boxes with ample space for coaches.

Is there any wonder parents would rather send their kids someplace else?

There are other examples. At City Section games, team programs are mostly non-existent. If fans are lucky, they may be able to purchase a copy of the two rosters. At some Southern Section schools, the game programs look more like a professional team's media guide.

The LAUSD argues that it's tough to find money for game programs when there's barely sufficient funds to purchase books. Each year the district allots money to its 49 schools, then each individual school makes its own budget. That being the case, the district needs to step up efforts to get more money to schools, and the institutions need to figure out ways to generate outside support to subsidize their budgets.

This is about competition, another American tradition. Open enrollment lets parents find the best environment for their children, whether they are athletes, math whizzes or history buffs.

The hope is that schools suffering mass exoduses will raise their own bar of excellence so that students want to stay there, instead of transferring elsewhere.

But the onus is on the school district and schools to find a way. And parents need not apologize for doing what is best for their children.
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 6, 1998
Words:759
Previous Article:NBA EXHIBITIONS EXCLUDED.
Next Article:CHATTER: RAIDERS RELISH NEW FIND.



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