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Good Samaritans save football program
People care. That’s the takeaway from the Henry Washington and Southwest College Cougars story. If people believe you’re making a sincere effort to help yourself, people care, and they’ll help.
Last month, we thought coach Henry Washington’s South Central Los Angeles football program had died, a victim of California’s budget crisis, Title IX political correctness, indifference and a tone deaf school president. We eulogized Washington and his Cougars in this column space.
Rocky Pimentel, a 56-year-old executive at Silicon Valley’s Seagate Technology, read the column and sent an email inquiry. He wanted to know how to get in contact with coach Washington. Pimentel cared. He wanted to help.
Pimentel has no connection to Los Angeles. Years ago, he played baseball at Santa Clara University. He’s not a bleeding-heart liberal who has devoted his life to charity.
“Honestly, I’ve never voted for a Democrat presidential candidate in my life,” he said with a chuckle.
Pimentel liked Washington’s story, his three decades of devotion to a community many people fear, most don’t understand and some wish would just go away. With football as his bait, coach Washington fishes for kids looking for a best last chance at a college education and a path away from the gang activity that plagues the neighborhoods surrounding Southwest College.
A community college football program that services 70-80 kids a year on a $110,000 annual budget had been marked for death. Pimentel emailed the story about Washington and the Cougars to other executives at Seagate Technology. People at Seagate started pledging thousands of dollars to a football program and a coach they’d never heard of, much less seen play. In a few short weeks, Pimentel’s email was being passed around the Bay Area. An astronaut and San Francisco 49ers legends were pledging money to keep the Cougars alive.
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Thanks to public pressure applied by Washington, local ministers and community leaders, Southwest College president Jack Daniels had been forced to give the coach until the end of February to raise $100,000 to keep the program alive.
Pimentel and the Bay Area Angels beat the deadline and exceeded the goal. The Cougars are going to play football in 2012.
“We’ve been really blessed,” gushed Washington.
People care. We live in a cynical era. We all give in to it. We need reminders that we care about each other, that we haven’t given into our most base survival instincts, that there is great joy and satisfaction in lending a helping hand.
The beauty of this story is its organic, pure nature. Henry Washington did not seek out the media. I was at a friend’s house when I overheard a conversation about the demise of Southwest College football. The person telling the story had no idea I was a sportswriter. Two days later, I asked a friend from Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can Program to take me to Southwest College to meet Henry Washington.
I wrote the column hoping to provide some perspective on the deification of Joe Paterno. I’ve always believed the real coaching heroes are the men and women who toil away from the spotlight and the shoe contracts and the 70,000-seat stadiums. I also wanted to point out there’s a price to pay for America’s love affair with incarceration and its right-hand man, the immoral “war on drugs.” California can’t properly finance education primarily because incarceration is three times more expensive.
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The column wasn’t a plea for help. It was an indictment of our collective hypocrisy and stupidity.
Thank God for Rocky Pimentel and the Bay Area angels. They ignored my anger and seized an opportunity to spread some love. They did it without seeking recognition. They asked that I not mention how much money they gave. Rocky did not want to be identified or quoted in this story. I convinced him that I had to identify at least one person to tell this story.
It’s an important story. We need to spread more love. We need reminders about the importance of helping people who first help themselves and that there are Henry Washingtons and Rocky Pimentels in the world.
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