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As I was sitting in the classroom of Cerritos High School co-athletic director Robert Adams on the evening of Sept. 19, I was surprised to hear the reaction of the parents and players in response to the varsity football team being moved to the junior varsity level for the remainder of the season. But the surprised feeling I had was in a good way because the overwhelming majority of the small gathering in that room was opposed to this decision that was made by first-year year head coach Darin Owens and Principal Janice Peterson.
They were opposed to the movement, and subsequently, the end of this year’s varsity season, even though the team had been outscored 234-0 in the first four games of the season. Yes, no one wants to see a team go through such embarrassment on the field or on the court. But as Adams, Peterson and Owens continued to say last week, it was not about the wins and losses. It was about the safety of the players.
The only thing I was waiting to hear was a chant of “let them play, let them play, let them play” which William Devane began and was repeated by a huge crowd at the Astrodome in the 1977 classic movie The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training when the game his baseball team was playing in was nearly called short by the umpires because of time.
That’s all everyone wants for the rest of this season-let the Cerritos varsity football team play as the varsity football team. That’s what the 49 players listed on the roster I was given prior to the Sept. 7 game against Gahr signed up to do. That roster consists of 12 seniors, nine juniors and 28 sophomores. Nine players from last season’s team of 22 players returned from a 0-10 campaign and just two seasons ago, the Dons varsity team had 51 players. To me, that shows the commitment of Cerritos High students who want to play football, especially when there are 37 underclassmen on this season’s team and 39 from the 2010 squad. And, three players on this season’s team have been on varsity for three years.
Now, I’ve listened to both sides and I understand that safety is very important for any student athlete, especially in football which is a contact sport. But, if this is strictly because of safety reasons, Cerritos is not the only high school to have major injuries in a football game. Every football team, from Long Beach Poly and Santa Margarita, to the 17 other winless California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section schools that played 11-man football last season, experiences their share of major injuries.
If it’s based on wins and losses, let me remind you that Cerritos went 3-7 in 2010 and played for the Suburban League’s fourth and final automatic berth to the playoffs on the last game of the regular season. Granted, Cerritos has not had a winning record since 2003, but the Dons program hasn’t come anywhere close to losing 49 straight games, which is a state record held by Ganesha High School from 2003-2008.
The problem doesn’t just end with the varsity football program. The varsity cheerleaders suffer. The band suffers. The seniors who had planned on, or knew of, college scouts coming to see them, suffer. And after that meeting on Sept. 19, I was approached by two football players who already knew they were being scouted. The parents who shelled out all of their hard-earned money to buy football related clothing and supplies suffer, even more for those who decided to quit. The student body and faculty who come out and support the program during the highs and low also suffer, as do the members of the community and alumni who live for Friday night football.
The six other Suburban League schools suffer because that’s one less game they will be playing. That’s one less game to get prepared for the playoffs, for the three teams that will get automatic berths. John Glenn had a bye last week and was to play Cerritos tonight, so that’s two straight weeks without football. Norwalk will suffer because it had scheduled Cerritos for its senior night game. Now, those festivities will have to be bumped up a week for its city rivalry game with Glenn.
Bottom line is this. There needs to be a much better strength and conditioning program at Cerritos to avoid the high number of injuries. You’re not going to stop having injuries because again, football is a contact sport. But you can limit the number if the players are properly trained. Varsity football should have never been moved at Cerritos. Varsity football is important to every high school across this country. But at least it’s good to know there will be a varsity team next season.
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