October 31, 2008

Mural a point of pride for Dorsey (Calif.)

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Vaness Harris has only seen film of Kevin Copeland. The clip is 20 years old, but Harris could see the speed, the hands, the moves of a wide receiver who was so good he was recruited by Miami and Notre Dame back in the day - when Miami and Notre Dame were college football powerhouses.

"Every time I watch the film I get teary-eyed because it was a shame God had to send him up early," said Harris, 17, a senior linebacker/tight end at Dorsey High in southwest Los Angeles. "He's part of the tradition here."

Harris and his Dorsey teammates have not only seen Copeland on film, they have seen him on a mural outside their locker room at the high school. It was painted as a tribute after Copeland died of a heart attack October 6, 1989 during a Dorsey game at San Pedro. The team rallies around the mural before every home game.

Copeland looks larger than life on the mural, and he is illuminated even more for the Dorsey players following a renovation of the mural by Los Angeles artists Raul "Frame" Gamboa and Ezra One.

The renovation was a surprise for the players Thursday afternoon, just hours before their rivalry game with Crenshaw at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

"It was emotional, the community and the alumni and the players really appreciated it and are grateful," said Paul Knox, the head coach at Dorsey since 1985. "Kevin's mother and brother, Kyle, also spoke of other players from the program who had passed. They wanted to acknowledge those kids, as well."

Knox said Dorsey has a fresh tragedy with the recent death of Chris Mims, a standout defensive end at the University of Tennessee, who played for the San Diego Chargers. Mims, 38, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment just two weeks ago.

The renovation of the mural was paid for as part of Nike's 5Days2Friday initiative, which targets a rivalry game or significant high school game during the 2008 season. Nike has presented customized T-shirts, training sessions, videos, visits from NFL players, and team dinners as part of the program all across the country.

The Dorsey players also watched a special, customized video message from former NFL player Marshall Faulk during the team dinner Wednesday night.

Crenshaw (5-2) clobbered the Dons (6-2), 34-0, Thursday night in a Coliseum League game, but the intensity of the rivalry likely will not be undone by one game.

"They have talent all over the field, they are really explosive," Knox said. "They won the last couple, but this is a rivalry that is usually close."

One game will not undo Copeland's legacy as one of the greatest players in the school's history.

For 40 years, the Dorsey and Crenshaw players have shared the same LA sidewalks, the same stores, the same middle schools, the same youth football fields. The schools are about a mile apart, so it is a rivalry that carries through the winter, into the spring, and lasts until summer.

Dorsey, which was built in 1937, was split down the middle when Crenshaw was built in 1968. Once upon a time, families in the LA neighborhood would have been on the same side of the ball.

The series is nearly even. That means if one side gets bragging rights they better get in all the trash talk they can, because the advantage won't last very long.

"We have our team meeting before our warm-up right there where the painting is," said Knox, who has been the head coach since 1985. "It's part of us."

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