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.
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.