By Gerry Gittelson, Special to the LA Daily News
4/23/2010 -- It was such a big day in high school sports Thursday that everybody won.
With the clock winding down in the City Section because of budget cuts that would have trimmed the budget by 25 percent and cut coaching stipends, the Dodgers and various philanthropists and corporations teamed to raise more than $1.4 million in emergency funding to save sports for schools within in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The "Save Our Sports" initiative will pay coaches' stipends to ensure all 14 sports offered by the district can continue for at least one more year.
"This was a very easy decision for the Dodgers to make," said team owner Frank McCourt at a news conference. "This is what people do. We help each other in time of need."
McCourt was quick to point out some of the Dodgers' most legendary players, such as Don Drysdale, Willie Davis and Eddie Murray, all started off at City Section ballfields.
"I just started to think, `What would school be like without baseball?' Don't these kids deserve the same chance?" McCourt said. "It's also about the effect on all these kids that aren't going to be major leaguers but are taught about hard work and being graceful whether you win or lose. The Dodgers care deeply about what happens in our community."
Derrel Thomas, who played for the Dodgers from 1979-83 and now works for the organization in community relations, learned to play baseball at Dorsey High.
"I'm a product of the LAUSD, and I remember it was like an adrenaline rush when I came to the Dodgers because Maury Wills was my idol," Thomas said. "The Dodgers, it's a great organization because there's so much history. Everyone talks about the Yankees, but we've got to be the top baseball organization."
Barbara Fiege, the LAUSD director of athletics, was so grateful she nearly broke down emotionally.
"I don't think anyone is happier than me," Fiege said. "You always hear about all the negative stuff out here, but today is a very positive day. Without this funding, we would have lost 700 coaches. I had the unenviable task of having to decide which students would get to play and which ones would not. Thankfully, I no longer have to cross that. For these kids, this opens doors for a whole new world."
Among the others who helped with funding were the LA84 Foundation, Nike, Chivas USA, Lincy Foundation, Weingart Foundation, Easton, the Pete and Ginny Ueberroth Foundation, the L.A. Lakers Youth Foundation, L.A. County supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and private individuals.
A projected $640 million deficit in the 2010-11 school year prompted the school district to institute a 25 percent budget cut in the sports program. In football, the plan was to cut two of the six paid coaching positions, and there were also plans to cut freshman-sophomore basketball teams, among others.
"In such difficult economic times, our partners and neighbors have stepped up," Board of Education president Monica Garcia said.
Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, tired of making budget cuts, said he is thrilled he didn't have to make cuts in athletics because he believes prep sports are "untouchable."
"It was something that wasn't going to be touched," Cortines said. "L.A. is about a sense of community. People have stepped up to the plate when there was a need."
For those wishing to be involved with the "Save Our Sports" program, contact Melissa Infusino, director of partnerships at LAUSD, at (213) 241-7000 or go to www.cif-la.org.