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Archive for May 2010

Salinas football players lead march to fight city's gang image

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When my local youth baseball and softball players march through the streets of Oak Lawn, Ill., it’s to announce, “We’re ready to play!” When the local high school football teams march through the streets of Salinas, Calif., it’s to announce, “We’re not gang members!”

From the (Salinas) Californian:

“One City — Our City” read the sign carried by football players leading a first-ever peace march. Their goal? Show the community that its adolescents are doing great things.

Salinas police officers controlled traffic as they escorted an enthusiastic rally of about 500 people. The 12-mile walk [which went by all the city’s high schools] began at 8 a.m. [May 24] from Alisal High School.

“Salinas is not full of kids who want to commit crime or be in gangs,” said Arturo Rodriguez, an Alisal High School football player who said he chose, on a day he could have slept in, to wake up early to take part in the effort.

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And why did the football players feel compelled to have this rally? Because Salinas has gotten a reputation as gang-banger central thanks to a major spike in violent crime over the last four years. Salinas’ per-capita murder rate in two years, from 2006 to 2008, went from 4.74 per 100,000 to 17.42 per 100,000, or seven murders to 25. The rate only went up, to 29 murders, in 2009. Salinas has more murders than just about any large California city, save, say, Oakland.

The city of about 150,000 is in the midst of “Operation Knockout,” a federal, state and local effort of mass arrests (at least 100 so far) that hope to, at least for a little while, calm down the drug- and gang-fueled violence. (Authorities say the violence has its roots in gangs fighting to control Salinas, a port, if you will, into the San Francisco Bay area drug market.)

Salinas’ image has taken such a hit from all the violence, the PONY league from nearby Monterey refused to play games there, for fear of its players’ safety. A little harsh and rash, perhaps, but it gives you an idea of what Salinas is dealing with.

Hopefully the next time the football players lead a parade, it’s not to say, “We’re not gang members!” Just, “We’re ready to play!”

When cutting a high school gym means cementing a city's death

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You would think the Anderson (Ind.) school district, in a 40-year decline that is resulting in the shutdown of one high school and four other schools at the end of the 2009-2010, plus another 170 teachers cut from the schools that are left, might decide that now is the time to shut down its 9,000-seat basketball arena, which costs about $350,000 a year in utilities alone, or twice the cost of utilities for a whole elementary school. But shutting down the Wigwam, the acknowledged heart and soul of the Indiana high school basketball phenomenon known as Hoosier Hysteria, isn’t about money. It’s about a desperate town wanting to hold onto its last shred and symbol of pride and relevancy.

Again, the Wigwam survives, 13 years after the high school it originally was affiliated with closed, 11 years after a fire that burned down the old high school and would have burned down the gym had firefighters not made a heroic effort to save it, and 10 years after the idea of shutting it down was first broached in earnest after a school referendum failed. On May 11 the Wigwam dodged its latest bullet, when the Anderson school board voted 4-2 against a proposal to open the Wigwam up only to outside rentals, and have basketball games played at the 3,500-seat gym at the one high school that’s left — Anderson High School, sitting in what used to be Madison Heights High School (RIP), and next year to absorb the closed Highland High School.

There is an argument to keeping the Wigwam open beyond the long and storied history of Anderson Indians basketball. A few attached classrooms survived the fire, and they’re used for administrative purposes and special programs. But, really, the only argument for keeping the Wigwam open as Anderson, the city and school district, collapses around it is emotion.

Anderson’s population peaked at 70,000 in 1970, when the city had about 40,000 GM jobs. The population is sinking to 55,000, now that there are zero GM jobs. You could film a “Roger and Me” sequel in Anderson.

There are a few stirrings of economic activity, and Anderson did come back once from the decimation of the end of the Indiana Gas Boom in the 1910s. But riding through the city now is an exercise in watching slow death. The school district enrollment peaked in 1971 and has fallen even sense, with a continual 2-3 percent annual decline. To give you an idea of how bad things are for the Anderson schools, the new superintendent, Felix Chow, was hired in part because he had worked in this situation before — as superintendent of schools in Flint, Mich.

When a friend and I visited Anderson and its coach, Ron Hecklinski, in 2000 while doing a travel story for the Chicago Tribune on Indiana high school gyms (in Indiana, a 9,000-seat arena like the Wigwam or the No. 1 arena, New Castle’s Fieldhouse, is called a “gym”), Hecklinski was lamenting the decline in Anderson. “Every time I read the obituaries,” he said, “I say, there goes another season-ticket holder.” But the lure of Wigwam, the one that made him leave an assistant’s job at Ball State to coach high school ball, remained strong. Then, as now, he was sure that if the Wigwam shut down, he would have to leave Anderson. Anyplace else would be just a gym.

Even though everyone calls the Wigwam a gym, to Hecklinski — as to much of Indiana — the Wigwam is more special than that. “When people walk in here,” I remember Hecklinski saying, “they go, ‘Whoa.'” It’s not just the size of the Wigwam — it’s the intensity of the crowd, which remains even as its numbers dwindle. I suspect the continued use of Native American imagery — including a pregame chief and maiden dance — are held onto less out of mere tradition than as a reminder of the days when everyone in Anderson came to the games from their good-paying jobs.

That’s not something Anderson wants to give up on, even if the auto economy has long given up on Anderson. Richard Tompkins of Anderson wrote a letter to his local newspaper, the Herald-Bulletin, that sums up what the Wigwam means to so many in that city:

We lost our factories and that really devastated this city, but I can think of two great parts of Anderson tradition right now that has given us so much pleasure and is well known throughout the state: The Lemon Drop and the Wigwam.  These are two places we have enjoyed that have been around for generations and are part of the heritage and history of Anderson. This city has lost so much — the factories, far too many citizens, two great high schools, sectional and regional basketball; don’t continue to destroy what we have.

It’s sad, when you think about it, that someone feels all their once-thriving city has left is a famed diner and a gym. And when you feel that sadness, you realize why even when it seems financially wise to shut down that massive gym, it would be a psychic death blow to a city already pockmarked with large, rotting graveyards of what used to be jobs.

Would shutting down the Wigwam had saved some teachers’ jobs? Or a school? Maybe. But probably not. The declining enrollment, more than the Wigwam, has seen that those cuts would happen. But what about other entertainment options? Anderson is only about a 45-minute drive from Indianapolis — couldn’t people go see the Pacers or Colts, or Butler? Or won’t Anderson High basketball still be played in Anderson, but in another gym? Again, all true. But pointing the people of Anderson to entertainment elsewhere strips the city of its last piece of family-entertainment identity (there’s a horse track and casino, but you’re not going to bring your kids there). And no one is coming to Anderson from anyone else to see the team play in a smaller gym — but they’ll come to the Wigwam.

I’m not saying that keeping the Wigwam open while Anderson struggles is exactly the right decision. But I can understand why the people of Anderson want to hold onto it. At this point, it’s practically Anderson’s reason for being.

Football coach arrested for running prostitution ring

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As the philosopher Big Daddy Kane once said, anything goes when it comes to hos ’cause pimpin’ ain’t easy. It gets a little more complicated if you’re also moonlighting as a volunteer middle school football coach.

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Yeah, this song sounded just as offensive in 1989.

27-year-old Christopher Wayne Foster, a coach in Springdale, Ark., was arrested in nearby Bentonville (Wal-Mart world headquarters) on charges relating to abduction and running a prostitution ring after a 23-year-old woman told police she had jumped from his vehicle. Police said she answered an online ad to work as an administrative assistant. She told police she met with Foster in his car to get money she said she was owed for her work, and she was horrified to learn his line of business — pimp. The woman told police Foster tried to drive away with her and abduct her, whereupon she jumped out of the car.

Apparently Foster had no criminal record before, or at least one that involved sex crimes, because nothing turned up when Central Junior High did his background check. Hey, the background check is a look at your past record, not “Minority Report.”

Police had some helpful advice for anyone not wanting to unwittingly work for a self-styled pimp — make sure your job interview is done at an office. From KFSM-TV in Fort Smith, Ark.:

“Obviously anybody that is asked to come for an interview with somebody who claims to a stock broker or attorney and wants to meet you at a restaurant and not their office, your curiosity should be raised a little bit,” said Chief James Allen.

One more bit of advice: if that person also violates another unwritten rule of job interviews and orders something sloppy like pasta with heavy cream and marinara sauce, just drop your napkin on the plate and walk out that door.

Written by rkcookjr

May 23, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Locker boxing: The unofficial varsity sport

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My kids don’t play hockey or lacrosse, or for that matter don’t play any organized sport that involves a locker room. So I must admit I’m behind the times when it comes to the phenomenon known as locker boxing.

Locker boxing — or helmet boxing, as the Wikipedia entry is listed — involves athletes donning their sports’ gloves and helmets for a round of fisticuffs in the locker room. Well, that definition seems obvious, doesn’t it? You try to hit your opponent in the head repeatedly until he’s knocked down, gives up, or has his helmet knocked off. It combines two classics: the stupidity of teenagers, and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

Locker boxing, a common nonhockey and nonlacrosse cause of concussions among hockey and lacrosse players, got back into the news recently thanks to the lacrosse team at Gowanda High School outside Buffalo. WKBW-TV breathlessly reported that it obtained videos of Gowanda lacrossers (or whatever they’re called) engaged in some locker boxing — as if you couldn’t do a search for “locker boxing” and YouTube and come up with a zillion videos.

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This one was added a mere hour before I typed this.

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Whomever posted this made it clear who was fighting by, you know, posting names.

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Yup, girls do it, too.

Unlike, apparently, the videos I posted above, locker boxing actually ended up causing some trouble in Gowanda. Originally the superintendent canceled the lacrosse team’s season after getting wind of the videos, dated April 29. Then under pressure from parents of the 15 team members not present in the video, the school board reversed that decision and suspended only the five players fighting and/or making videos of the fights for the rest of the season. The coach, however, is out for the rest of the year, according to WKBW, so he won’t be at the team’s final game May 25.

From WKBW:

Locker Boxing [sic] was banned by the Greater Toronto Hockey League almost three years ago, but recent news reports suggest that it may be making a comeback in locker rooms across Canada and the U.S. – sometimes with coaches watching from the locker room sidelines.

School officials said [Coach Roy] Logan was not present during the April 29 incident.

Despite the ban, there is still locker boxing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, and there are still coaches watching it from the locker room sidelines.

As bad things that can happen in a locker room go, I guess there are things that are worse. Still, what the hell, teenagers? Forget your health and general welfare. Don’t you know how much your parents paid for that equipment? Christ!

You might wonder, with all the shenanigans happening in school sports locker rooms, how come there isn’t more supervision? I’ll give you two words: USA Swimming. The problem with, say, assigning a coach to hang out in a locker room while strapping teens undress and shower together is the line of perverts that would form to volunteer for the supervisory job. I’m not sure whether a coach needs to walk in every few minutes (not regularly — you don’t want the kids to know your patterns) to make sure things are good. Honestly, I’m not sure what you could do, other than what Gowanda did — suspend players and coaches.

You don’t need to install video cameras to track locker boxing. Go to YouTube, and you’ll see the kids have that covered.

Written by rkcookjr

May 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Arizona won't kill school sports — and itself

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With 14 of 15 counties reporting — including its largest, Maricopa — Arizona appears to have passed Proposition 100 by a 64-36 margin. Prop 100, passed first by the state’s legislature, raises Arizona’s state sales tax from 5.6 percent to 6.6 percent through 2013, providing an extra $1 billion to schools, health care and public safety, and preventing an immediate $900 million cut — $450 million of it to education — in the state budget.

For purposes of this blog, passage means that Arizona schools will not be eliminating or greatly reducing their sports programs.

As you might recall, in my Prop 100 preview, I talked a lot about how Arizona was making itself the capital of Scared Old White People, what with all the anti-immigrant legislation and the threat of voting down Prop 100 despite knowing the trigger would be pulled on some draconian cuts. With Prop 100’s passage, perhaps Arizona does need to build its Scared Old White People Capitol building yet.

However — and I say this as someone who has broken the tape on 40 — a quote like this one from the Arizona Republic makes me wonder if health reform legislation missed the boat by not really having death panels.

But for Tempe residents Al and Joan Laninga, both retired and registered Republicans, the proponents’ campaign was not necessarily persuasive – at least not in the way it was intended.

Joan, 71, a retired private school teacher, said the amount of the tax was insignificant and she had initially considered supporting the tax hike, but the campaign changed her mind.

“First it was all about having enough police and fire,” she said. “When they changed their focus to education, I figured the whole thing was a scare tactic.”

Written by rkcookjr

May 19, 2010 at 12:02 am

Will Arizona kill school sports — and itself?

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Arizona’s developing quite a reputation for being a state by and for scaredy-cat old white people feeling the hot breath of becoming the minority (which the Census Bureau expects will happen by 2015). The infamous SB1070, another law banning the teaching of ethnic studies, and  a bill coming through that would make schools count illegals and tally up their “cost” — I guess that’s what happens when a real estate market collapses, and white people can no longer sell their houses to flee, um, whatever they call those who are not white people.

It didn’t take a Sarah Palin-assailed girls high school basketball boycott for the state to set up a “hey-weren’t-not-so-bad-commission” to burnish its image as something more than Crazy Coot Cracker Central. It took multiple boycotts by multiple organizations.

Even with all that, the worst hit to Arizona’s image may be yet to come. That will happen if the state’s voters on May 18 turn down Proposition 100, which adds another percentage point to the Arizona sales tax, with most of the money going to schools, as well as health care, and police and fire services. It won’t be interpreted nationwide as an attack on illegal immigrants only. It’ll be interpreted a sign Arizona is closing up shop to pretty much everybody except scared old white people — and even they’re going to be hit if the day comes that budget cuts make an ambulance a lot slower in coming.

How do I know this? Because the of the list of supporters. Among them: pretty much every state and local division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Education Association, the Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Gila River Indian Community, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the Arizona Medical Association, US Airways and the Arizona Cardinals. Basically, a mishmosh of large and powerful and not-so-large and not-so-powerful that rarely stand on the same side of the same issue. Oh, and also the majority of Arizona state House and Senate, and Gov. Jan Brewer, who had to approve of the ballot measure.

Their fear is this: if Prop 100 — which would raise taxes only through 2013, when the provision sunsets — doesn’t pass, the state immediately cuts $900 million from a state budget already collapsing from a housing and tourism bust, including $450 million in cuts from education. This isn’t a threat or a hypothetical. The Arizona state legislature already has a contingency budget passed in case the tax increase is rejected. (The Cardinals also might feel a little guilty for youth sports funding being slashed because tax revenue generated around its new stadium wasn’t up to par.)

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And more than the budget cut is the signal the rejection sends: that the old white people of Arizona are dying, and they’re taking the state with them. Even for business types who get a cold sweat at every mention of a tax, such a loud and public signal of disinvestment in education, public safety and health (the beneficiaries of the tax increase) would let the world know Arizona isn’t willing to step up to invest in its future. I know every state is cutting, and the backers know every state is cutting. But they also know that at least the signal needs to be sent that they feel a little bad about it.

So what does this have to do with youth sports? Plenty. Many Arizona schools already have certain sports, particularly nonrevenue sports and programs for those who are not on the high school varsity — at the ready to get chopped by their budgetary guillotines. From

“If it fails, the announcement has come from our district office that the possibility of eliminating athletics across the board in our district is real,” said Herman House, director of interscholatics for the Tucson Unified School District. House doesn’t think it will come to that. He believes revenue-producing varsity sports such as football, basketball, baseball and softball will survive, but the reality is, if Prop. 100 fails, Tucson will have to shave about $45 million from its annual budget.

“Athletic directors are a resilient bunch and we always seem to find a way,” said Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen, whose district is the largest in the state. “At the same time, there are fiscal realities you can’t ignore. Sometimes, that has bad consequences for the kids.”

Hogen said Mesa was already discussing a pay-for-play fee for all student-athletes. But if Prop. 100 does not pass, that fee will likely rise by 50 percent, putting a hardship on a district with many lower-income families. House said if Proposition 100 fails, his district is also considering restrictions on travel and a reliance upon fundraisers to pay coaches’ salaries and keep sports self-sufficient.

Not to mention, a Prop 100 passage might speed up or intensify a plan by Arizona’s state high school sports authority to cut athletic divisions and tournaments, and set limits on travel, all in the name of saving money.

If Arizona wants a preview of how this would work, it can look at New Jersey, where school districts across the state are slashing sports — and, of course, lots of other, more curricular parts of education — when locals rejected higher school taxes on top of state budget cuts. Or just about anywhere else nationwide, really. Having your funding tied in a big way to property taxes and state government receipts is great when housing prices are flying upward, not so when they’re crashing. Just go to Google News and search “school sports budget cuts,” and you’ll get the feeling in many places this recession means the end of days for school-sponsored sports.

Or look at the past coverage of tax rejections at the Grove City Schools in Ohio, which became national news precisely because the district eliminated sports entirely as a result — but were brought back when voters finally passed a hike. Maybe you don’t notice when the math department cuts a teacher, but everyone notices when the football team isn’t playing on Fridays.

So why does Arizona get the pressure of having its image tarnished by rejecting an education tax hike? Well, there’s the matter of all the other legislative nuttiness in the state. But there’s also the matter of Arizona’s taxes being relatively low to start with. The sales tax hike would go to 6.6 percent. Not bad at all, especially to someone such as myself in Chicago, where the sales tax can go more than 11 percent. That’s not to say Arizonans deserve to get soaked as much as I do. It’s more like the feeling I have when I would hear my parents in Carmel, Ind., carp about their property taxes, and I’d find out they were paying about one-quarter as much for a house that wasn’t worth that much less than mine. It’s just hard to work up sympathy. And least New Jersey’s rejections were understandable, with the state’s extremely-high-in-the-nation property taxes.

However, the main issue is that Arizona’s populace knows exactly what it will get if the tax doesn’t pass. The gun is loaded and at your head — and yet you might still decide to pull the trigger.

If most polls are to believed, about half of the state’s voters are suicidal, with passage of Prop 100 as a tossup. While the supporters are well-funded, the opponents have some politicians on their side, as well as the always more popular stance of not raising taxes.

Maybe what supporters need more than money is 7-year-old Logan Wade. He is the young fan Glendale (Ariz.) City Council member Phil Lieberman credits with convincing him to join the majority vote May 11 for a $25 million guarantee for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, which play in a taxpayer-funded arena in a taxpayer-financed entertainment district that threatens to go down the tubes if the Coyotes, as is very possible, move back to their ancestral of Winnipeg. This vote, which would come if the NHL-owned, bankrupt team can’t find a buyer, comes despite the city budget deficit of $15 million. But how can you turn down a little kid? From the Arizona Republic:

Councilman Phil Lieberman, who had asked tough questions of staffers, said he was persuaded by Logan Wade, a 7-year-old fan.

“‘Will you vote for this resolution tonight?'” Lieberman said the Glendale boy asked.

“I can’t turn him down,” the councilman added.

What Prop 100 supporters should do is spend their money on jetting Logan Wade around the state on the May 18 election day, and have him wear a jersey for a local high school, asking voters, “Will you vote for Prop 100 today?” Even scared old white people can’t turn him down!

Carmel hazing update: indictments handed down, of players and society

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Here’s the tally, presented May 17, from the long-simmering hazing investigations involving four senior basketball players at Carmel (Ind.) High School:

* Oscar Faludon — one count battery, Class A misdemeanor, two counts criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor

* Scott Laskowski — three counts criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor

Both indicted in relation to locker room incidents at Carmel High. They will be tried in their home of Hamilton County (north suburban Indianapolis).

* Brandon Hoge — one count battery, Class A misdemeanor, one count criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor, one count battery, Class B misdemeanor

* Robert Kitzinger — one count battery, class A misdemeanor, one count criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor, one count battery, Class B misdemeanor

Both indicted in relation to an incident on a team bus driving back from Terre Haute. They will be tried in Hendricks County (west suburban Indianapolis), where the criminal conduct is alleged to have taken place.

I’ll have more on this later. I’m watching the news conference being streamed on

A quick take:

The grand jury, which heard evidence from at least 57 witnesses, did not come back with any sex crimes or felonies, as alleged in the first incident reports. Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp says the school cooperated fully and is putting a peer-to-peer program in place to help ensure these incidents don’t happen, or if they do, they don’t come out a month after the fact, as happened in the basketball case. However, she did say the school’s initial discussion of the hazing not rising to the level of criminal activity was a result of administrators not having enough information at the time. The grand jury looked at evidence related to three coaches who were supervising, or should have been supervising, at the time of the incidents, but decided no charges should be brought against them.

Leerkamp isn’t divulging details on the indictment, which is sealed because it came from a grand jury. However, she’s very publicly indicting the culture that led to the alleged incidents. In many cases, she said, students interviewed proffered the view that the victims brought it on themselves.

“How does a victim ask to be violated?” Leerkamp said. “That attitude was out there” that a victim indeed does.

Will the players get convicted? They’ve retained Jim Voyles, probably the best defense lawyer in the Indianapolis area. If the East Coast lawyers Mike Tyson’s team hired let Voyles, as a hometown assistant, try the case in the Indianapolis court instead of just push paper, Tyson would have never seen a day in jail, because he never would have been convicted of rape.

The prosecution also will have to deal with, by its own admission, that the kids got the attitude that victims deserve their fate from the adults around them. “I have jurors who have said a women asked to be raped, because of what she was wearing, and that a child asked to be molested, because they crawled on the lap” of an adult who had previously violated them, Leerkamp said.

How can athletes get away with hazing? Because adults allow them to.

“That’s at the core of what happened at Carmel High School, and the core of what we have to deal with,” Leerkamp said.


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