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East LA youth football team banned from county parks

March 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
For 42 years, hundreds of young football players and cheerleaders have joined the East Los Angeles Bobcats, oftentimes practicing at Salazar Park.

But for now, Los Angeles County officials are banning the team from playing or practicing at the park.

In October, a 25-year-old man was stabbed to death by a 23 year old at a Shakey's pizza restaurant in Bells Gardens, where the Bobcats were dining after a game. Both the suspect and victim are believed to have ties to rival gangs.

The sheriff's department said there's an active threat of more violence against the team if games continue, according To county Supervisor Gloria Molina's office.

"We've already had one death at a Shakey's, we're not going to take a risk at having another one and certainly not at a county park," said Roxane Marquez, a spokeswoman for Molina's office.

An assistant coach disputes that, saying the fatal stabbing had nothing to do with the team.

"Both of them had nothing to do with our organization. Neither one was a coach, neither one was a current parent, neither one was a player," said Gustavo Ruiz.

The Department of Parks and Recreation said, "It is because we care about the safety of the children and all park patrons that we have provided the Bobcats team with critical safety measures that need to be met before they may practice in any Los Angeles County park."

Among them are changing their team name and colors, as well as paying for extra deputies to patrol their games, which would cost around $744 per day.

Parents and team officials said they can't afford that.

"It's a struggling city, we're in East L.A.," said Sally Aguero, the team's vice president.

"We don't have a problem with it if it's at a reasonable dollar amount," said the team's president, Sylvia Romero. "Maybe they can help us pay that."

As for the team, which is comprised of 6 to 14 year olds, members said they simply want to play.

"If you break up the Bobcats and don't give us a season, you're just basically sending out all the kids to the streets," said 14-year-old Ruben Hernandez. "You're putting them in more danger than they are here, playing at the park."

For now, the team does not have a place to play going forward. All sides involved say they need more dialogue to try and resolve the situation, but there are no formal talks planned.


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