Illegal recruiting. False addresses. Sex with a minor. Porno films before games. Ditching classes on game day.
These are just a few of the experiences players on Burbank High’s winless 1995 football team say they went through during the reign of former coach John Hazelton.
“If it were a movie, it would probably be a best seller,” former defensive tackle Matt Thomas said.
The strange happenings at Burbank became the talk of the town even for a city that’s home to the Walt Disney Company and other major studios.
Two years later, a new principal, new coach and new players are working diligently to repair the damage and restore credibility.
“I think they’ve changed more than a little bit,” said David Apotnik, superintendent for the Burbank Unified School District. “The administration and the coaching staff have the program moving in a positive direction.”
In interviews with nearly a dozen ex-Burbank players, many spoke openly of their contempt for Hazelton while revealing new details of the program’s breakdown in ethical and moral standards.
Two ex-Burbank players, Adam Brubaker and Bryan Ling, now say Hazelton made recruiting pitches while they were enrolled at other schools. Brubaker said that he never lived in the Burbank district during the 1995 season.
Players confirmed that “two or three times” adult films were shown during sixth-period football class in the locker room on video equipment supposed to be used to review video on the opposing team. Coaches were not present.
“You’re walking in, ‘I’m going to get dressed for football,’ and you see guys laughing around the TV,” defensive back Jason Edwards said.
“We kept turning them on and off,” running back Mario Chelsea said. “I guess everybody used to be tense before games. I guess they were trying to relax.”
The XXX-rated videos were the least of the problems confronting the program. Longtime players who lived in Burbank all their lives noticed a sudden influx of new players and wondered how they got there.
“I was just waiting for someone to say something,” Edwards said. “I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want to say anything and have the whole team turn against me. Now that I look back, I wish I had gone to an administrator to let them know what was going on. It took too long to get Hazelton out of there.”
By the end of 1995, a school-booster president was facing felony charges for having sex with a 17-year-old Burbank offensive lineman. By early 1996, the school-board president, Joe Hooven, had resigned after being accused of covering up the alleged sexual liaison.
Hazelton resigned shortly before a 59-page investigative report alleged he “may have exerted undue influence” to lure players to Burbank. Principal Willard Williams transferred to another job in the district.
Assistant coach John Greaves pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of making annoying and harassing phone calls.
“We just had a total breakdown in society,” said Dean Crowley, Southern Section commissioner. “If you walked into this office, you couldn’t make up this story.”
Almost immediately after Hazelton was hired as head coach in May, 1994, he tried to persuade two of his ex-Montclair Prep players, Ansen Beck and Jesse Zapata, to join him at Burbank, according to evidence gathered by investigator Sam Nicholson in his 1995 report commissioned by the Southern Section and Burbank Unified School District.
At one point in 1995, three Burbank players listed the same apartment in Burbank as their home address, according to the report.
Two players, linebacker Brubaker and quarterback Ling, provide insight into how players suddenly ended up at Burbank.
Brubaker played at Cleveland High in Reseda as a freshman and Granada Hills as a sophomore. He thought he would be academically ineligible his junior year at Granada Hills when he ran into Hazelton at the Valley College summer passing tournament in July, 1995.
“He said, ‘You’re a good player. Why don’t you come visit one of our practices?”’ Brubaker said.
Brubaker said he went to the practice and Hazelton gave him equipment and showed him a helmet with his name on it. Most important, Brubaker said Hazelton convinced him he would be eligible at Burbank.
“I walked into the counseling office, ‘You’re not eligible.’ Next thing I know, some guy walks in, ‘He’s eligible,”’ Brubaker said.
Brubaker said he played the entire 1995 season while living at the same North Hollywood apartment that was his residence while he attended Granada Hills.
Thomas confirmed he gave Brubaker a ride home several times to his North Hollywood apartment.
Asked how he was eligible, Brubaker said, “I don’t know. They took care of it. I didn’t care. I just wanted to play. Nobody said anything about nothing. I was amazed. I was wondering how they could get away with it.”
Brubaker was one of the team’s leading tacklers, but he said he rarely went to class.
“I got straight F’s and an A in football,” he said.
On game days, players were required under district rules to attend at least four periods. Brubaker said he frequently only went to his first-period class, then spent the rest of the day hanging out at DeBell golf course with other players.
Brubaker said he wasn’t disciplined following an on-campus fight in which he hit another student.
“I’m sure if I was somebody else, I would have gotten suspended,” he said.
When new coach Gary Willison was hired last season, Brubaker said he transferred to North Hollywood after Willison informed him nobody would be allowed to play who didn’t live in the Burbank district.
Ling was a backup quarterback at Southern Section Division III power Notre Dame in the summer of 1995. He was ready to explore other options because he knew he wouldn’t be able to beat out Ryan Bowne as a starter. He was familiar with some of the Burbank players from his Pop Warner days with the East Valley Trojans.
“I was asked to come down and watch one practice and I saw so much talent,” Ling said.
Ling said after he returned to practice with Notre Dame, Hazelton called him at home to continue discussing what Burbank could offer.
“He implied that you’d have to be handicapped not to get a scholarship,” Ling said. “He said there’s going to be so many scouts at the games. He promised me we’d win at least eight games. He promised I’d get to start and run the offense the way I wanted.”
Ling moved into an apartment in Burbank with his father. He received a financial-hardship waiver from the Southern Section but admitted his transfer was for football. It didn’t take long for him to realize he’d made a mistake.
“It was a mess from the first game on,” he said. “These kids they brought in were idiots. It was probably the worst decision I made in my life to go to that school. There were a lot of closed-door meetings with people. That’s when I got the feeling this is not high school sports.
“No one on the team liked each other. At the end, we hated each other. There were always fights. I don’t even remember the games because they were secondary to everything else. My mom is still mad. She despises Burbank.”
Asked what he learned from his experience, Ling said, “I learned don’t jump into things. A lot of people were trying to tell me, ‘Don’t go there. It might look great,’ but football meant everything to me. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t do it. But kids get suckered into it. Definitely, I was suckered. It was a bad mistake.”
Errol Bowen was a sophomore running back who transferred to Burbank from Manual Arts because he said he knew many of the players from the East Valley Trojans. He eventually quit the team. The Southern Section investigator, Sam Nicholson, did a house check on Bowen and could not confirm his residence, according to his ‘95 report. Bowen transferred to Sylmar, where he’s now preparing for his senior year.
“It was a year I want to forget about,” he said. “Football sucked. If we see Hazelton, we’d let him know how we feel.”
But offensive lineman Richard Stauter defended Hazelton. “He was a great guy,” Stauter said. “He was a great coach.”
The 1995-96 school year produced one screaming headline after another regarding the football program. Salle Dumm, a 51-year-old school fund-raiser, had charges dropped that she had initiated sex with a 17-year-old Burbank football player after a jury deadlocked on one felony count of lewd conduct with a minor and deadlocked on one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The player had testified that Dumm coerced him into having sex, telling him to “do it for your team.” Dumm testified the teenager initiated sex and she was too drunk to protest.
Hazelton’s friend, Maureen Burke, who served as a tutor to Burbank players and introduced the player to Dumm, testified she asked for the youth’s underwear to preserve it as evidence in a plastic bag in her refrigerator.
Hazelton pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace in a plea bargain to an original charge of failing to report an incident of child abuse to proper authorities.
Hazelton has repeatedly denied violations of Southern Section rules.
Last year, Hazelton served as an assistant coach at Manual Arts. This year, he is an assistant at Santa Barbara. He didn’t return phone calls.