Westchester’s basketball program – An obstacle to reform

Now that Westchester High School has again taken the state Division I basketball championship I’ll take this opportunity to reprint an article I posted a year ago that pointed out that we cannot have reform at WHS until the school focuses its attention and resources (including it varsity sports programs) at local students instead of the regions elite.

Westchester High School may have won its 5th State Division I title, but the basketball program continues to be nothing more than a private club team headed by Ed Azzam. A club that has no place for W/PdR students.

Azzam even acknowledges himself that academics at WHS takes a back seat to sports in this recent  L.A.Times blog as saying “That’s kind of when it kind of dawned on me, the difference between CAMS (the charter school Azzam’s son goes to) and a lot of other schools. My kids would never consider missing a game — and it wouldn’t even enter my mind — and that’s the difference. The academics here (at CAMS) come first in all that they do.”

Since I published the article a year ago there have been some encouraging changes including the hiring of a new principal. Dr. Bruce Mims was recently hired by a select group of parents, teachers and community members as part of the iDesign reforms at the high school.

However, Mims will have a tough time attracting our local students including local student athletes as long as Westchester’s sports programs are designed to attract or recruit athletes from throughout the country with the specific goal of winning Division I championships.

Westchester out of the Playoffs – so should be the coaches

Former principal Dana Perryman – “We would like the Westchester community to continue to believe that this is their school… There are a lot of families with young children in the area and we want them to send their children here.”

When Perryman uttered those words six years ago hoping that our communities children would return to the school, few Westchester families took up her offer. Many of those third graders whose families she was speaking to will be attending other high schools this coming September.

That is because the school continuously failed to offer the families a wide array of academic courses, electives and it set its bar so high in its sports programs by offering places on its junior varsity and varsity teams only to the regions most elite players. I pointed out not to long ago on these pages (quickly picked up by one local newspaper) that the high school no longer even has an aerospace magnet even though the magnet had “Aerospace” in the name.

All of this could change if reforms can take place now that the school elected to distance itself from the perpetually broken system of local districts and a micromanaging downtown board of education. In December, teachers and parents voted to join the LMU/Westchester Family of schools. Its still part of the LAUSD but it is being granted some forms of autonomy.

Steps for reform
One recent step in the right direction was the announcement that our high school will be getting its school band and music director back. That’s just one of a series of steps that will be necessary if the LMU/Westchester family of schools is serious about renewing community interest in the high school.

Another important step would be a demonstration to the community that the athletic needs of our sons are just as important as the performing arts needs of all of our children.

That step would necessitate a new direction in the schools varsity and junior varsity athletic programs and finding new people to manage and coach it.

Now that the basketball program at Westchester High School has come to a quick end, it would be a good time to thank athletic director Brian Henderson and basketball coach Ed Azzam for their services and look for a new director and coach whose interests are in providing the local student athlete with opportunities.

Henderson and Azzam’s only interests has been to win CIF State Division I championships year after year. Together they have been quite effective. However, to meet that lofty goal the Comets have been caught violating CIF rules time after time, year after year.

Few if any at all of Azzam’s varsity players over the years have come through Westchester’s feeder schools that would also include our local private schools. Henderson and Azzam’s program have routinely recruited outside of the schools enrollment area, often raiding other schools to recruit some of the best players in the country to insure a place in the CIF state finals.

Some examples include:

  • The Comets were slapped with a year’s probation when Hassan Adams played for the team in a 2000 summer tournament before his transfer to the school was official.
  • The same year Ashton Thomas was declared ineligible for varsity competition one season because of an improper transfer from Leuzinger.
  • In 2003 Amir Johnson was recruited out of Verbum Dei (an academically superior school btw) to play basketball for WHS. Westchester was Johnsons third school in as many years having originally enrolled at Narbonne. Westchester was banned from post season play in the CIF State finals after the recruiting violations were discovered. According to the Los Angeles Times, Johnson was punished for falsifying grades and an assistant coach was banned from coaching for one year.
  • Hassan Adams of Inglewood had attended two other high schools before landing at Westchester.
  • The LA Times also noted that starting point guard Ashanti Cook, sixth man Brandon Heath and reserve Bobby Brown each came from Inglewood and others came from Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Torrance, Lawndale, Carson, Hancock Park and the Crenshaw district.
  • Auri Allen played at two different high schools in four years before winding up at Westchester in his senior year.
  • The LA Times wrote: “Three times in the last two years (2002-2003) Westchester has been formally accused of breaking City Section rules, and twice it has been penalized.”
  • In 2005 Eric Sonderheim of the Times wrote: “The stink of corruption keeps getting stronger even though the City Section (referring to particularly to Westchester) and The Southern Section have new transfer restrictions requiring athletes to change residences if they want to gain immediate eligibility.”

Cheating the community

Westchester high school recruiting practices have come at a price to the community. Our son’s, many who could easily find themselves a slot on a team in another school if they had lived elsewhere, are left out of program in our own community.

Because of Westchester’s recruiting practices, it’s been years since this community has been able to rally around one of it’s children at our high school and its been years since one of our kids found their name in a local paper such as the Argonaut with a story of their contribution to a successful win over another school. What this ultimately boils down to is another opportunity that the school failed to provide our children and one of many reasons why it will be difficult to encourage community enrollment.

In 2002, Reseda Coach Mike Wagner was quoted as saying: “No kid in his right mind is not going to want to go to Westchester, where they get their shoes and sweats and bags.”

It goes even further than that, The LA Times write “While most high school teams do car washes and bake sales to raise funds for equipment, uniforms and travel, Westchester, a public school, attracts all-star-caliber athletes from across the South Bay and parts of Los Angeles. The players admit they have been at least partially enticed by thousands of dollars in free apparel and paid trips to national tournaments that are attended by hundreds of college scouts.”

In the same article the Times wrote ”Jonathan Smith, a top player at Lawndale Leuzinger High, transferred to Westchester before this season only to become an end- of-the-bench reserve. But he doesn’t regret his choice.

“There’s a lot of exposure,” he said. “At Leuzinger, we only traveled to tournaments in the South Bay. At Westchester, we travel everywhere. The shoes, they’re nice too.”

Westchester high schools activities have hurt not only our community but other high schools as well since they lure students away from their programs as had happened with Amir Johnson who attended Narbonne and Mater Dei before settling in on Westchester HS.

On a well known basketball forum a parent wrote, “If you want your son to be part of a program that cheats and constantly is looking for players to replace your son and your son will have teammates transferring in and out faster than the planes that land at LAX, then Westchester might be one of the places for him.

If you want your kid to be part of a program that the Coaches genuinely care about the well being of the kid (not just the basketball skills) and will work their butts off to build a team around your son and help him both on the basketball court and in the classroom, I can suggest the following schools…”

Clearly at many high schools, recruiting top talent has reached obsessive levels and the cycle continues year after year. It doesn’t have to continue at Westchester High School any longer.

If the LMU/Westchester Family of Schools is true to it’s commitment of bringing the community back into its schools, it will have the authority bring back athletic opportunities to kids living in the Westchester high school enrollment area.

10 Responses to “Westchester’s basketball program – An obstacle to reform”

  1. Several years ago, Bill O’Reilly called WHS “an inner-city school”. He had no idea how accurate that label was.

    Some of us have seen this coming for decades.

    As Los Angeles, and now California politics are 100% controlled by left-wing, politically-correct, minority-driven, tax-and-spend, open-border anti-capitalist forces, corruption is given.

    If you continue to vote for folks like Rosendahl, Villaraigosa and their allies, and you continue to vote for massive tax increases for the school district, you will end up having to send your kids to private school or move out of the district.

  2. As a 2004 graduate of WHS, the above comment disturbs me. That B-Ball team has given plenty of kids a chance to attend an University and obtain a degree.

    Now some of the practices need to change as to avoid sanctions and this is just one of many changes that must occur for WHS as a whole to return to the level it once was.

    And to insinuate that Minorities are destroying the school is quite sad indeed. If you feel that you had to pull your kids out of the school because there are too many black and latino kids there, then you are just as much apart of the issue as everything else is. The COMETS DON’T NEED YOUR HELP, if you feel that way.

  3. One of the premises of this article is that these kids will do well at any school they attend, even their neighborhood high school. They will still have a chance at a degree and attend a University. The scouts will find them.

    The problem isn’t the kids, it’s the Nike sponsorships, the travel, the one of a kind basketball shoes, the bags and the other perks that are showered on this program that attracts these kids -and- gives the boot to local kids. Dump the perks and they won’t come. Other high schools will benefit and the exceptional student athletes will find great opportunities in whatever enrollment areas they live in.

  4. You must be joking when you said ALL of Westchester High’s sports programs recruit elite athletes. ONLY the basketball program comes even CLOSE to winning city titles year in year out. I grew up in Westchester, was a Comet for four years, and played two varsity sports. Most of my teammates came from the local community as well.

    The basketball program is the least of Westchester High’s problems. The biggest problem is the Westchester High parents who refuse to send their kids to the school. That’s right, it’s many of the citizens of Westchester. The students that replace the local ones come from overcrowded high schools, high schools that will not refuse a place to their high achieving students. These students care little about the school and by extension their academics and so the school suffers.

    Imagine if the community actually cared instead of just complained. Their investment of care, time, and money would improve the school immeasurably.

  5. Francis N.,

    Mentions of race disturb me too. I did find, however, the policies there do leave the local homeowners surrounding the school high and dry. There are cities that have great programs, but their priority is their community. Because the schools in Westchester/Playa Del Rey are part of LAUSD, their priority is to serve the disadvantaged and kids who came from minority-heavy neighborhoods.

    If you look at the priority requirements for the magnet programs, you will see what I mean.

    LAUSD has lots of failed policies, including the latest on LATIMES where teachers accused of molestation were not adequately reported and monitored. Great, now more tax money goes to paying off lawsuits rather than good teachers.

    So, people who live in Westchester already have a great racial mix, but the local schools don’t resemble to local mix at all, then the local residents know that the million dollar homes they just paid for don’t come with good community schools. The school rankings on greatschools.net are much lower surrounding communities that are not part of LAUSD. Their neighbors are certainly not going there. Most places, schools, even private ones in LA have a great mix of minorities. Yeah, racial comments are disturbing and scary, but I also think people are backlashing against the policies I described.

  6. The school was a neighborhood school with two geographic areas being served not one! Unfortunately now there is open enrollment and kids come from all over the county to attend so there’s no longer any sense of community. The adults that write hatefully about the school and its successful programs are not helping to build a better world.

  7. WHS Teacher:

    Open Enrollment is a great thing, serving a larger community is a great thing. Teachers of public schools are my heroes and we in the community all want this school to be a community school. But the magnet programs do not favor local residents like a lot of cities do. I have 2 kids, 8 and 5 going into Playa Del Rey and I found out that they will have to be in 2 different community schools and have VERY little chance of getting into the magnet program.

    I also was told that the 5 year old had a great chance getting in or little chance getting into the magnet program, depending on which school personnel you talk to. The 8 year old just got a letter that she was not picked for the magnet program. I was astounded that they do not give residents of the community in which the school is supposed to serve priority into the program.

    We would love to support the local schools, but LAUSD acts like they simply doesn’t like us because we live in an expensive area and pay higher rent and property taxes. Some parents I know in the area just decided if they were to find better education they’d had to move into the ‘burbs and commute.

    You build a better world when you involve the community around you. I don’t really know what will happen at the high school level for my kids, but when I read a former WHS kid’s comment on greatschools.net that “if you are not in a magnate program, you can kiss your education goodbye.” I naturally have a lot of concerns about the area schools.

    I supposed if you are tested well for the GATE program you get your pick of schools programs somehow? Magnate is a different thing? We are from a different county and GATE was administered differently and we don’t even know how it would translate here.

    Our conclusion was simply to work harder and send our kids to a private school, so they will be at least in the same school. We came from public schools ourselves and have always supported them. Coming to this conclusion broke our hearts.

  8. Nice article and much respect for demanding more from your community school. I am writing this from Northern California after hearing yesterday on a local Bay Area sports radio show that Westchester (known even up here for dominating hs basketball) pays or paid their players..

    I had to find out if it was true so I did a little research and here I am.. Highschools really resorting to pay their players? Directly or through gifts, clothes and travel is the same thing and is utterly pathetic and disgusting.

    I personally have watched Westchester play a few times including a state title victory at Arco Arena in Sac with a team of 5 future NBA payers Hassan Adams, Brandon Heath, Bobby Brown, Gabriel Pruitt and Trevor Ariza (is that right? hard to believe).. All of whom your “highschool” apparently lied cheated and stole for.

    As a fan of highschool sports, what is going on at We$tcheater is a complete joke and an embarrassment to what everyone outside of LA considers pure, honest and bureaucratic-free athletics..

    Grown men and woman gushing themselves over teenagers and jr. high kids and contributing to cheating is pathetic. Get a life…How can anyone take pride in winning knowing you had to break every rule in the book, every other team abides by to do it??

    I guess at We$tcheater you lean how to throw you morals out the window and cheat. You should rename your “highschool” U$C Junior College where cheating jocks learn the ticks of the trade.

    It is disgusting to follow great LA “highschool” stars as they transfer to school after school for their sport. There would be citywide outrage if any school up here in Northern California committed half the violations LA schools blatantly commit every year in basketball, football and track.

    Way to enhance the worlds image of LA people as being shallow, materialistic, airheads who are more concerned with social status, looking cool, image and bragging rights than personal substance and morality..

    Sleazy, lowlife administrators in the LAUSD should be ashamed of themselves for letting constant athletic violations happen right under their noses.. Great example for our youth..

    westchester dad, much respect, props to you for demanding more from your “community school.” If only the rest of your city had intelligence, accountability and scruples you have.

  9. One reason PDR students do not go to westchester is because it is a school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I live in the area but would not send my son to any school that is in the LAUSD. It has nothing to do with Ed Azzam or anyone else involved with that school. ALSO, IT IS REQUIRED TO HAVE 2.0 GPA TO PLAY SPORTS IN ANY CALIFORNIA SCHOOL BUT AZZAM REQUIRES A 2.5 IF THE PLAYERS WANT TO START FOR HIM. HOW IS THAT NOT CARING ABOUT ACADEMICS? You have motives for writing this article but to me it sounds like “sour grapes.” Maybe your son was cut from his team or couldnt even make the squad. Whatever the reason is, get your facts straight and then re write the article.

  10. Hi Mike.
    I agree with you regarding the LAUSD and I have been writing about that for a long time both here at WestchesterParents and on Westchesterkids.org. I’ve also been writing about the BB program nearly as long (2000) and my facts are quite in order. My articles are sourced just follow the links were they appear. If you can point out any historical inaccuracies please let me know and I’ll follow up on it.

    As for “sour grapes,” not at all. My kids were never interested in basketball in any way shape or form and certainly none of them were old enough to be ‘cut’ from the team back when I began writing the articles since they were in elementary school. So far only one of my kids has reached high school and he choose not to participate in any high school sports program. We’re a vball family anyways.

    I began writing about this when the principal of the school (Perryman) told Westchester “We would like the Westchester community to continue to believe that this is their school… There are a lot of families with young children in the area and we want them to send their children here.”

    Her words rang empty when the schools curriculum offered few courses that were of interest to W/PdR high school students and certain programs like the BB program were practicality out of reach to the average W/PdR student. The fact of the matter is that the WHS BB program is run like an invitation only club team.

    The basketball program is just an example of the opportunities that are missing at the school but it is a glaring example because of what it represents.

    The schools administration and the coaches were (and continue to be today) only interested in the best basketball players that Southern California has to offer. That’s an incredibly high hurdle that the average W/PdR student would have to reach if they wanted to play in their schools varsity team.

    In most high schools throughout the state, coaches have to work with what they get. I.e., the students that live within the schools service area and who are enrolled. In some years coaches will have a banner year when students growing up throughout the community are full of talent and offering them plenty to work with. Others are either rebuilding years and a test to see how great the coaches really are. I wonder how well Azzam would do with a team composed soley of community grown students? Would he look like a mere mortal without the elite squad of handpicked players and Nike money?

    As long as administrators at WHS fail to offer a balanced curriculum of both academics and sports, Westchester/Playa parents and their sons and daughters will continue to look for opportunities elsewhere.

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