Teams fought for playoff positioning down the stretch of the high school football season, and they were fighting for league championships on Friday night.
That’s all good and fun within the realm of competition, but what is not tolerable is all the fighting on the field.
We’re talking about players going after players, coaches ripping off helmets of players and, in some instances, parents spilling into the chaos, some bearing a look a fury and others carrying a helmet. The recent brawling has happened more than I can remember, and I’ve been covering the regional scene for The Bee since 1988.
This view is shared by a good many area coaches and administrators, too. The dust-ups have happened throughout the Sac-Joaquin Section, at large schools, medium and small — city schools, those from the suburbs and those from small towns in the hills.
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On Saturday morning from his Lodi office, section commissioner Mike Garrison wasn’t poring over a mound of data with seven others to select the seeds for the seven playoff divisions as much as he was horrified by the film clips of teams brawling.
And he has a message for the playoff teams: clean it up or bow out immediately, if not sooner. People are watching, people film and people talk.
We all understand that football is an emotionally charged sport, but some of the footage revealed boorish behavior and hooliganism that you might expect to see in a soccer match across the world, not teenagers in a prep game.
“We’re absolutely concerned with what’s going on,” Garrison said. “We say sports is a microcosm of society, so is this a society issue with all these fights, like a road rage thing? Sometimes, it’s good kids doing it and they lose their cool. Is it kids not having the skills to face situations and they revert to any type of rage?
“I don’t know how much coaches are talking to their kids about this, but they need to do so. I’m looking at film of kids throwing punches, a coach putting his hand on a face mask of a kid and pulling it off, stuff that’s uncalled for. This has got to stop. This is ridiculous and administrators need to step up and talk to their kids.”
Everywhere you turn, one side points to the other for starting a melee, but we all know this cannot continue.
When Antelope and Capital Christian got into it earlier this season, fingers pointed to the opposite colors for the discord. Same thing when Del Campo and Christian Brothers played in Week 9, and also when Rio Americano and El Camino faced off on Friday night, a game that was halted in the first half because all manner of insanity broke out.
And it happened in Placer County on Friday night when, in the middle of the third quarter, the Grant-Whitney game was halted after a mosh pit of chaos ensued. Referees made it clear, flanked by law enforcement, that the game was suddenly not safe. Grant was declared a 39-28 winner.
Grant coaches maintain Whitney started the brawl and film shows a Whitney player throwing a Grant player down, and then all madness broke. A Whitney assistant coach pulled off a Grant player’s helmet while initially trying to maintain calm and then an flood of people reached the field.
Grant athletic director and assistant coach Carl Reed knows that fights sully a program’s image. It’s never a good look for any program. City schools tend to get the most heat, labeled as programs with undisciplined kids coached by unhinged men. That’s not always fair and it’s most often not accurate.
I saw Grant play three times this season and there wasn’t an ounce of trouble. Just clean, hard-played football, the way it’s meant to be.
Reed is not proud of what happened Friday, nor are any Pacers players or coaches, and the same for the Whitney side. Said Reed, “We’ll get the bad rap because we’re Grant.”
Reed and longtime famed Grant coach Mike Alberghini also understand that these can be and should be teachable moments. Kids, no matter how tough of an image the portray at any school in any part of the land, crave to be coached and mentored. And they especially want to play. But you can’t compete if you’ve been sideline for brawling.
CIF rules stipulate that players cannot leave the bench or sideline, even if the intention is to infuse order. Grant had as many as 10 players leave the bench during the Whitney scene, according to film breakdown by Garrison of which I also studied.
Those players may have to sit out Friday’s playoff opener against Downey of Modesto. Garrison and his office are awaiting a report from referees who worked the game.
Also Friday, there were dust-ups and ejections from games between Gustine and Orestimba, as well as Mariposa and Le Grand.
When Garrison meets with team leaders before championship events of any sport, he has a theme that rings of truth and common sense. Be good sportsmen. Look the part of a champion, win or lose.
“We tell them that you’re on the premier stage of our section championships,” Garrison said. “You never know who’s watching. What message do you want to send? These kids getting in fights and their behavior, is that the message you want for yourself, your school, your community?”
Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs
Openers Friday at 7 p.m., unless noted.
No. 9 Gregori at No. 8 Edison
No. 12 Modesto at No. 5 Sheldon
No. 11 Cosumnes Oaks at No. 6 Turlock
No. 10 Davis at No. 7 Pitman
Byes: No. 1 Folsom, No. 2 Monterey Trail, No. 3 Oak Ridge, No. 4 St. Mary’s
No. 9 Lincoln at No. 8 Tracy
No. 12 Woodcreek at No. 5 Jesuit (1 p.m. Saturday)
No. 11 Downey at No. 6 Grant
No. 10 Elk Grove at No. 7 Vacaville
Byes: No. 1 Del Oro, No. 2 Central Catholic, No. 3 Inderkum, No. 4 Granite Bay
No. 9 Ponderosa at No. 8 Buhach Colony
No. 12 Burbank at No. 5 Manteca
No. 11 River Valley at No. 6 Sacramento
No. 10 Christian Brothers at No. 7 Yuba City
Byes: No. 1 Capital Christian, No. 2 Placer, No. 3 Merced, No. 4 Antelope
No. 9 Sierra at No. 8 Pacheco
No. 12 Valley at No. 5 Oakdale
No. 11 Rosemont at No. 6 Patterson
No. 10 Cordova at No. 7 Golden Valley
Byes: No. 1 Rio Linda, No. 2 Vanden, No. 3 Casa Roble, No. 4 Wood
No. 9 Orestimba at No. 8 Los Banos
No. 12 Pioneer at No. 5 Foothill
No. 11 Dixon at No. 6 Center
No. 10 Union Mine at No. 7 Mountain House
Byes: No. 1 Colfax, No. 2 Ripon, No. 3 Bear River, No. 4 Sonora
No. 9 Bradshaw Christian at No. 8 Argonaut
No. 12 Waterford at No. 5 Rio Vista
No. 11 Highlands at No. 6 Calaveras
No. 10 Amador at No. 7 Hughson
Byes: No. 1 Modesto Christian, No. 2 Hilmar, No. 3 Escalon, No. 4 Ripon Christian
No. 5 Millennium at No. 4 Gustine
No. 6 Woodland Christian at No. 3 Golden Sierra
Byes: No. 1 Denair, No. 2 Big Valley Christian