Dwayne Poolee feels right at home at Manual Arts. He helped the school win the 1981 City title by scoring 43 points in the championship game. The banner for the title hangs above his right shoulder. (Photo by Jason Lewis)
Principal Todd Irving looks to change the academic and athletic environment of Manual Arts to make the school more attractive to local residents. (Photo by Jason Lewis)
Manual Arts Principal looks to turn around the athletic department
By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Writer
There is a buzz around Manual Arts High School's athletic department. Two men are determined to stop the mass exodus a great athletic talent from the surrounding areas.
Principal Todd Irving has hired former Manual Arts star basketball player Dwayne Poolee to be the head coach of the boy's basketball team.
Poolee is a legend around Manual Arts, and he wants to bring back some pride and dignity to a historically great program.
Younger generations do not remember the glory days of Manual Arts, when they were a powerhouse in basketball, football, track, and just about every other sport. Athletes from that school dominated the city of Los Angeles for decades. Since the early 1900s. Poolee was a member of one of their dominating teams, when he scored 43 points in the championship game to lead Manual Arts to the 1981 City basketball title.
Over the past 15 or so years the talent has eroded, or simply left for schools outside of the area. In basketball a lot of the talent from the Manual Arts area has gone to Westchester, Fairfax, and Taft, making those schools national powers.
Poolee looks to change that with a lot of hard work, and this is the place he wants to be.
"This is an exciting time for me right now," Poolee said. "This is my calling. To fulfill my dreams of coaching at Manual Arts."
Poolee is not worried about a shortage of talent.
"All we have to do is make sure we keep our talent around our community," Poolee said. "I'm willing to make sure that's going to happen."
Another problem is that there are not a lot of AAU basketball teams in the Manual Arts area, but Poolee is going to make sure that his players play travel ball and get the proper exposure to attract more talented players.
Poolee is not the only one excited about coming back home. Word traveled around campus and the community and it has caught a lot of people's attention, and the expectations are rising.
"My goal is to win another City championship at Manual Arts," Poolee said.
Since graduating from Manual Arts, Poolee went on to play a year at UNLV before transferring to Pepperdine University, where he graduated. He went on to play for the Clippers. He was recently the head of basketball operations at USC.
Working in Poolee's favor is Principal Irving, who is looking to turn the athletic program around. Irving's first year with the school was last year, and he put all of the coaches on notice that they need to show some improvement or look for another job. The basketball team did not show the improvement that Irving was looking for, so he went to look for a replacement.
It did not take long for Irving to find Poolee, and he feels that Poolee can help change the athletic environment of the school, just as he is changing the academic environment.
After taking over at Manual Arts, Irving first looked to hold the adults accountable.
"We made ever single staff member have accountability," Irving said. "From the teachers, to the principal to the students. When you raise the level of accountability, that's when you get more vigor in the classroom. Higher expectations."
Irving and his staff have kept a constant watch on the teachers at the school.
"We're in the classrooms consistently evaluating teachers, and letting them know that just because you're in South Central LA, the same expectation that they'd have at Beverly Hills High School, we're going to have those same expectations for you here," Irving said.
Irving feels that changing the mindset of the adults will change mindset of the students. Letting the children know that they can graduate from Manual Arts and go to Stanford, Harvard, or Yale. Irving points out that this past year there were a number of students who went to some of the top universities in the nation.
Irving feels that a strong athletic department can help attract students from the area. He feels that last year the athletic department lacked structure, organization, passion, and work ethic. He really noticed that when the football team played at Crenshaw. At the beginning of the game he went to get a hotdog and by the time he got back to his seat the score was 27-0 in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter the score was 43-0.
"The kids at Crenshaw, they played with a chip on their shoulder," Irving said. "They played hard, I mean, it was a sense of urgency with them. There was not a sense of urgency with our guys. That's what we want to create."
That was simply not acceptable for Irving, so he looked for another football coach. He took the recommendation of San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary and hired Damien Brady.
"He (Brady) has been here for six months and its just... words cannot describe the work that he's done so far," Irving said. "You're going to see a different football team on the football field."
Irving is renovating the basketball gym for $1.6 million, and he is looking to upgrade the football field. Along with the field, he wants to have a regulation track, which means that the track will have to be expanded into the tennis courts.
Irving has big plans, and if his academic and athletic plans work out than Manual Arts will be a much more attractive school to the local residents.