by Bethania Palma Markus, LA-based education writer
Forty-two years after graduation from Locke High School, baseball greats, Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith, returned to their alma mater Saturday, May 9th, 2015, where the baseball field was renamed in their honor.
The Locke Saints squared off against Manual Arts High School on the home field that will from now on be known as Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith Field. Being back at the high school that helped shape their lives brought back good memories for Smith, a Hall Of Fame shortstop, and Murray, a Hall of Fame first baseman and star hitter. The field dedication was part of the reemergence of Locke into a place of promise, similar to when the two men graduated in 1973. Green Dot Public Schools, which took over the school from LAUSD in 2008 after years of neglect, continues to restore the physical environment of the school as part of a holistic strategy that prepares all Locke students for college, leadership and life.
“What a difference,” Smith said to the crowd. “Never did I imagine that one day I’d have the honor of having a field named after one of my team mates and myself.”
Repairing the Field
It took years of unflagging effort, but the infield is now clean and smooth. There is a brand new scoreboard and new dugouts. There’s also a new mural near the concession stand honoring “Steady Eddie” Murray and Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith. The two men were given Saints jerseys, cut a ceremonial ribbon to open the field, and threw out well-synchronized first pitches, but that’s not all. The next step will include having Smith’s and Murray’s names engraved on the scoreboard.
“Though the field dedication should have happened a long time ago, your spirit will forever live on this field,” said Locke Academy principal Dr. James Marin. Smith and Murray had made time the previous evening to meet with some Locke students in an intimate setting, where they told the young men and women to “dream big and stop at nothing until your dream is achieved.”
Both ball players stressed the essential role Locke High School played in making them who they are now. Their teachers had high expectations and believed in them, and there was a sense of pride in being Locke Saints.
“We had the newest school, the best band, we were good,” Murray said. “The teachers taught us to believe in ourselves.”
One of the most important lessons, Smith said, was the work ethic ingrained in them at Locke: “You only get out of life what you put into it.”
Many alumni were in attendance Saturday, including some of Murray and Smith’s former team mates. They stood and were applauded by the audience. Though less obvious, another symbol of ongoing progress at Locke was on the field: The Saints marching band was in attendance, and played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
History of Locke
Locke High School opened in 1967 and was regarded as a symbol of good faith and promise to the community after the Watts civil unrest of 1965. The new high school had a world-famous marching band and state-of-the art facilities. But over the decades, the school became a shadow of its former self, with low graduation rates, campus brawls, and a deteriorating infrastructure.
In 2008, teachers, parents, and community members joined with Green Dot to give the public charter school organization control of Locke. In the years since, Green Dot teachers, students and parents have worked successfully to turn the school around. In just four years, a UCLA study found that in 2012, students at the evolving school were already 1.5 times more likely to graduate and 3.7 times more likely to take and complete college-ready classes. Now called the Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy, the school continues to achieve Green Dot’s mission of providing all students equal access to a high quality education.
Green Dot has been intentional about connecting today’s progress to the early promise of Locke High. Green Dot has named a local area middle school for Locke’s original principal, Mr. James B. Taylor. On Saturday, his successor at Locke, Sid Brickman, who was principal when Murray and Smith were students, returned to greet his former students and honor their legacies. Standing at the on-field podium with Cristina de Jesus, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California, both leaders acknowledged the transformative power of an unwavering belief in all students.
By coincidence, Locke under Green Dot’s stewardship has followed the same advice Murray and Smith said they learned there decades ago.
“You just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Murray said.
“Keep trying to be better,” Smith said. “We took that to heart.”