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A UNIFYING FORCE RISES OUT OF THE ASHES.

Byline: STEVE DILBECK

CARSON - Sometimes it works so perfectly, so visibly, the results feel tangible, like they could be touched.

Times like two years ago when Ramona Vargas looked out on the stage for the cheerleading competition.

``While they waited for the judges to tabulate the scores, all the kids were on the dance floor dancing around,'' she said. ``You could see all of their uniforms were intermixed, not just groups sticking together because they knew each other. It was exactly what we're trying to do.''

Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, whites, all together, intermingling, seemingly unaware of race and color. One small, but perfect, moment for the L.A. Watts Summer Games.

Sometimes, probably most times, it's less striking yet perhaps no less powerful.

It's simply high school teams from varied backgrounds playing peacefully, competitively, and then shaking hands afterward and walking off, seemingly oblivious to differences.

And sometimes, maybe too many times, the 17 different sports played out at the Watts Games come and go without its young participants being truly aware of what brought them there.

Charles McCall, projects coordinator for the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce that has always sponsored the Watts Games, graduated from Crenshaw High School.

He was one of the few blacks at Saturday's opening day of the Watts Games at the Home Depot Center. He knows too well that few of the young athletes competing are knowledgeable of what happened in South Central 40 years ago this summer.

``None of these kids know about it,'' McCall said. ``It makes me wonder. I don't know what's going on in schools right now. What's the point of history?

``You could probably say '65 was a turning point in America.''

It was a warm summer night on Aug. 11, 1965 as California Highway Patrolman Lee Minikus rode his motorcycle along 122nd Street. He received a report of a drunk driver.

Minikus, who was white, located the car and pulled the driver over at 116th and Avalon. What had all the makings of a routine traffic stop was about to rock the country.

The driver was 21-year-old Marquette Frye; his passenger was his brother Ronald, older by one year. They were black in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Marquette failed a standard sobriety test. Minikus told him he was under arrest and radioed for a car to take him to jail and for a tow truck.

A crowd began to gather. Only a couple blocks from their home, Ronald left to get his mother, Rena, in hopes of retaining the car. When she arrived, Marquette became more belligerent. By now another patrol car had arrived.

Marquette began to resist arrest, and soon Minikus and a partner were struggling with both brothers and the mother. They radioed for backup and three more patrolmen arrived as the scene grew more tense.

With the crowd still swelling and beginning to grow hostile, the Los Angeles police officers arrived. A nightstick was used to help subdue Marquette. All three Fryes were arrested.

By the time all the officers left, some estimated the crowd had grown to over 1,000. When the last patrol car left 40 minutes after the Fryes were first pulled over, it was stoned by what was now considered a mob.

It was a spark, but the flames would ravage Watts for six days.

Kelli Hatfield is a 27-year-old, white, 10th-grade English teacher and girls' soccer coach at racially diverse Carson High School.

Hatfield seems embarrassed she hasn't attempted to stress the historical significance of the Watts Summer Games.

``I definitely see that importance and will work on it in the coming years,'' she said. ``We have trouble just getting us all here and ready to play.''

The blonde Hatfield is from a predominantly white neighborhood in Portland, Ore. yet is particularly familiar with the South Central experience. She spent two years teaching at Gompers Middle School across from Locke High School.

``There are a lot of misconceptions that go with Watts,'' she said. ``There are a lot of really good people there that really want to do the right thing and want their kids to grow up the best.

``It's unfortunate sometimes they're put in bad situations, but there's a lot of really good people there. I never felt once that my life was in danger.''

Hatfield, of course, wasn't born when the Watts Riots broke out, but that hardly makes her unique. The Junior Chamber of Commerce requires its members be between 21-39 years of age, meaning all were born after the riots.

Rick Moos was on the chamber when it held its first Watts Summer Games in 1968 and was its first committee chairman.

``In 1965 there was a lot of talk about how to bring the community together and make it more unified,'' Moos said. ``And we in the junior chamber noticed after three years very little had been done.

``We thought if we could start a youth program and try to bring the young people from all over the Los Angeles community together under the banner of a Watts Summer Games, then it would start a cultural movement that Watts is not a negative, it's a positive.

``We weren't putting the games on for people to see it, as much as for the young people to get to know one another.''

The unrest, the anger that had been building in the ghetto, exploded throughout Watts. Small groups stoned white-owned businesses. Meetings with community leaders only seemed to backfire.

Rage that had been building for years over racial tension, poverty, unemployment and poor schools, now was released throughout the area, spilling deeper into other neighborhoods.

Cars were stoned. Businesses burned. Police, the easy symbol of power, were targeted. Injuries and arrests mounted. Looting ensued. Things spun out of control.

An America that merely knew of Watts became transfixed by the outbreak that wouldn't ebb. ``Burn, baby, burn'' became a cry.

On the third day, police asked for the National Guard to take control. Gov. Edmund Brown, however, was in Athens, Greece.

Police now estimated the rioters had swelled to 8,000. There were reports of gunfire. Firemen and ambulance drivers refused to enter the area without armed guards.

Brown, reached in Greece, made the call for the National Guard.

At its peak, the Watts Summer Games drew more than 12,000 high school athletes. This year Vargas, the games' manager, estimates there will be over 7,000 participants; the first games in 1968 at Locke High had 150 athletes.

The Home Depot Center is the hub of the games this weekend and next, but there will be 20 other sites utilized, mostly for basketball, and spread throughout the Los Angeles area.

Track and field, the centerpiece of the initial Watts Summer Games, now has a fairly minor role. Only four schools have signed up for track; 32 boys basketball teams registered.

Different sports have come and gone. Women's sports increased, a cheerleading competition was added. Thirty-eight years, but the games live on some things never changing.

``One of the things we do is try to get kids to play sports with other schools they're not normally going to see,'' said Michael Johns, the games' vice chair.

``We seed our tournaments not only on ability and strengths of the teams, but getting kids to interact with other kids they don't normally get a chance to interact with.''

So teams come from Watts, where the diversity has reached almost 50 percent Hispanic; from the Valley; from the Inland Empire; from Huntington Beach and Oxnard.

From all over and from all backgrounds, just as Bill Sims envisioned when he proposed the Olympic-style games to the chamber.

``It's not about competition,'' Moos said. ``It's really about relationships.''

The final numbers were frightening. The National Guard was trained to fight the enemy, not civil unrest.

By the time things finally were under control, 34 people were killed, including a police officer, a sheriff and a fireman. There were more than 1,000 injuries and 3,400 arrests.

Estimates on the loss of property varied greatly, but was in the millions. High estimates had it over $40 million. More than 600 buildings were damaged by fire and looting.

And a city, and country, had been changed forever.

In recent weeks racial tension exploded into violence at Jefferson and Santa Monica high schools between blacks and Hispanics.

There have been measured improvements, but the battle wages on. And so do the Summer Watts Games.

``If you have a hundred kids or a thousand kids, if you're helping any of them,'' Moos said, ``you're doing something good for the community.''

Like they're being touched.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 12, 2005
Words:1441
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