by Robert Parry
photography by Laura Ambriz
Thirty-eight Bonita High School students stood on the school’s football field one cold, November evening, learning lessons which might affect their futures.
But what is the educational value of the hours these youth spend practicing after hours? Why do parents invest so many dollars for their child to be part of these activities? Perhaps more importantly, what do taxpayers contribute to these endeavors?
On a Friday night in mid-October, the Bearcats traveled to Mt. San Antonio College’s Homer Lodge Stadium, home field of the Ganesha High School Giants. The game was just six miles from La Verne, and the less than 500 Bonita fans that filled the stands still outnumbered Ganesha’s fans nine-to-one.
Larry Hatley devotes 40-50 hours a week to his football team during its season. Between January and May, that drops to about 12, but from the end of the school year through the start of the season, football is a full-time job that pays $2,900 a year, the stipend for a high school football coach in the Bonita Unified School District. It is a good thing Hatley is also a math teacher.
The young men in coach Hatley’s charge each invest about 20-25 hours a week learning blocking schemes, pass routes and snap counts. Hatley believes this is a worthy investment, and that his players learn teamwork, discipline and respect.
With the score 37-0, one of Bonita’s linebackers rocks a Ganesha ball carrier with a vicious out-of-bounds hit. One of Hatley’s assistants strides onto the field, latches onto the offender’s face mask and guides him to the sidelines for a public attitude adjustment.
Of his 38 players, only six have a legitimate chance to play football at a Division I college such as USC, UCLA or Notre Dame. Hatley says that, from his squads within the last two years, every player who wanted to play college ball got the chance-though most did not get large scholarships. Many landed in lower divisions and conferences.
Hatley knows the pressures and rewards of big-time football. He played football center for UCLA, until he was injured and later left UCLA to graduate from the University of La Verne in ’92. He also understands the time commitments and monetary sacrifices these youth make when joining the team.
The players each contribute about $150 to the team’s booster club. That helps pay the salaries of three of the seven assistant coaches. The squad’s annual budget from the District is about $8,000; half of that is spent reconditioning helmets each year.
BHS Principal Bob Ketterling says that about half of the school’s 1,620 students are involved in an organization or activity, and each must maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
A week after the football team was eliminated in the quarter finals of the California Intercollegiate Federation (CIF) playoffs, the Bonita Band made the trek to Santa Ana for the annual Tournament of Champions. The Bearcats competed in the Class “A” competition, the lesser of four divisions, with its band of about 60 musicians. At the end of the long day, BHS brought home third place trophies in two categories.
For the Henchey family, the $300 investment in eldest daughter Erin’s second year in the band is a relative drop in the bucket. That is about half of what her baritone saxophone cost. After seven years of music, Erin now owns two saxes, including the baritone and a $1,000 alto that was her first instrument. Her father, Joe, says a year of band adds up costs. There is a $50 transportation fee … a band camp fee … and T-shirts. Then repairs for the saxophones cost about $125, and the new case for it cost $200. Every couple of weeks, new reeds cost about $5.
When Erin had a chance to join BHS’s jazz band, she needed to take her skills to a higher level, so mom and dad kicked in $25 every other week for private lessons. Joe says Erin seems more interested in photography as a profession than music. But the 16-year-old may have time to reconsider her future during the band’s trip to New York this spring-another $500.
Aside from the tackles of football and tunes of band at BHS, many students are involved in other extracurricular activities.
For 15 years, Todd Helm has headed Bonita’s choir program. With a combined 175 students (more than 10 percent of the student body), Helm’s three vocal performance groups make up one of the largest organizations on the campus. The group rarely holds rehearsals outside of regular class hours, and students pay no fees, dues or donations. Yet, Helms still receives one of the smallest budgets from BUSD — just $1,300 for his work at two schools — and therefore relies on $2,000 in annual support from his booster club to provide enough music for everyone.
But not all students at the high school are involved in such activities. Sandy Mancuso graduated from BHS in 1991 and was not a cheerleader, band member nor soccer player. “I did nothing,” she says, offering no excuse for her inactivity. “I didn’t want to, I just kinda did my own thing.”
Most of her friends were not involved either, she says, reporting no long-term effects from being out of the social loop then.
“My students are so involved in other things — athletics, jobs, whatever. I need to respect that,” Helm says as he adds that most of his students do not have a long-term interest in singing.
On average, about five of his 40 seniors study music in college, while only 40 of his alumni now earn a living in the field. He does not find that to be a negative, though. He says most of his students are well-rounded, and that is the key to success.
Looking back, Joe Henchey admits his investment in his daughter’s involvement has benefits. Most of Erin’s friends are in the band, and her father says the sophomore is sociable with them. Being in the band also helps her “stay out of trouble.” Her father ought to know about children in trouble; he has been a West Covina Police Officer for nearly 20 years. Erin participates also in the BHS field hockey team, which costs relatively little by comparison. “They nickel and dime you to death,” Joe says. Youngest daughter Renae, who will enter Bonita next year, now plays the relatively inexpensive sport of soccer. She gave up the trombone after a few years.
Now, Erin brought home information on a class ring, which will cost about $200. “It’s always something,” her dad says.
The pep squad of about 20 enthusiastic young ladies seemed out of touch with the flow of that Bonita vs. Ganesha game. With Ganesha facing a key third-and-long situation, they chanted a lonely, rhythmic, “Hold-’em de-fense. Hold-’em-. I-said-hold … that … line.”
If band or football seem costly, pep squad members have steeper expenses, as they can each invest more than $2,000.
Yearly, they must pay for cheer camp to learn the latest dance routines and cheers. That is an accessory as compared to the equipment, uniforms, shoes and transportation they must also fund, not to mention the registration fees they must pay to participate in some parades and cheer competitions.
A review of major Southern California colleges reveals that only one — USC — offers tuition assistance for members of its spirit organizations. That renowned group of eight select women rejects more than 95 percent of the 200 who audition each year.