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Cerritos High football program to take a step back in order to move forward

By Loren Kopff

Cerritos High School Varsity Football

By Loren Kopff
The shockwaves are still being felt around the community in the wake of the Cerritos High School varsity football team being relegated to play as a junior varsity team the remainder of the season.

The shockwaves are still being felt around the community in the wake of the Cerritos High School varsity football team being relegated to play as a junior varsity team the remainder of the season. Cerritos principal Janice Peterson and first-year head coach Darin Owens remain adamant that this was the best thing for the program, citing several safety concerns for the varsity players.
Peterson said on the afternoon of Sept. 21 that she gets status reports from the athletic directors throughout the season as far as any major injuries following the Friday night football games. Peterson said that the situation was getting worse following the Cerritos-Gahr game on Sept. 7 when she knew about the injuries that were listed by the athletic directors.
“It was brought in by my A.D. that Coach Owens wanted to move the kids back to the j.v. level as a result of the very concern about the injuries,” Peterson said. “I’m not a football expert but I’ve been around football enough with Long Beach and here, so you see what you see.”
Owens said that the team was averaging about five injuries a game. Cerritos had played four varsity games and was outscored 234-0. However, both Owens and Peterson stated that this decision had nothing to do with wins or losses or how many points the varsity team was allowing.
“It’s 100 percent the safety of these kids,” Owens said. “Our younger kids can’t go out there and play the older kids. We’re not big enough, fast enough, or strong enough to compete at that level. It’s unsafe for our kids to play there right now. That’s really what this is all about.”
“It was a very, very difficult decision to make,” Peterson said. “You get a recommendation from your athletic director. Then as a principal, you are making the decisions of the school. But in my role as principal I also consult with the district office because I don’t know everything about everything. You make decisions in a collaborative fashion. It’s rare that you just make them alone. This was a very, very collaborative decision that was made and it was after very, very serious discussions and collaboration with different key people. It was made for the safety reasons.”
On the morning of Sept. 21, the principals and athletic directors of the Suburban League held a meeting and according to Peterson, the overall feeling she received was that they understood Cerritos was doing this for the safety of the student athletes. John Glenn co-athletic director David Cruz said that financial concerns for the rest of the league were also expressed at the one-hour meeting. While the figures will vary from one school to another, Glenn can average anywhere from $3,000-$4,000 for each home football game. Cruz also said that most of the varsity teams would be losing $4,000-$5,000 per game by not playing Cerritos this season, not to mention money for security, ambulance services and other personnel at the games. Glenn was to host Cerritos tonight at Excelsior Stadium.
An area that Cerritos admitted it needs to address is the weight training and/or strength and conditioning program, which could be a result as to why there have been so many major injuries. Owens, who said he was sick to his stomach as far as making this decision, added that he was able to sit down with the incoming freshmen group and build a weight training program for them all the way up.
“I’ve taken on some pretty beaten up programs,” Owens said. “This [program] has been on a spiral for so long that the new coaches [in the past], all of this stuff, the kids don’t do the weight training stuff…they’re just not ready. We’ve got to slow down. We just have to step back to move forward on safety. We can’t put the kids in this situation. It’s sad; it hurts me. It does. But gosh, somebody’s got to take a stand. I can’t stand there on the sidelines as a coach and watch this go on. It’s killing me.”
“When I was an athletic administrator in Lakewood, we were always concerned about the injuries,” Peterson said. “I just know that the change-up of coaches, from one circumstance to the other, was very difficult for the kids.”
The Cerritos “new” junior varsity team hosted Bellflower last Thursday afternoon in its league opener and although the Dons lost, they scored their first points of the season and came away without any injuries. Owens said that the team “made a statement on the field today with no injuries and being able to get through the entire game”. He added that the team had its best two practices of the season on Sept. 18 and 19.
Owens became the sixth varsity football head coach since 2002. Dusan Ancich had two different stints at Cerritos but none of the previous five coaches spent more than three seasons at Cerritos. Last season, Shonyta Pouncey served on an interim basis as Chad Reed resigned just days before the season opener. When hiring Owens, Peterson said it was really important to her that she got an on-site head coach.
“What we want now is we want our program to continue so that the safety is there,” Peterson said. “It’s all about the safety.
“We fully intend to do the varsity next year,” Peterson later continued. “We want to have a varsity team next year. That’s always been our intention. We needed to keep the kids safe this year.”
Owens, who was at a league coaches meeting the night of Sept. 19, said there wasn’t much reaction from the other league coaches of the school’s decision to move the varsity team down to junior varsity. It’s also unclear as to how many players, if any, have quit the team as a result of the decision.
“They’re going to be upset, the seniors,” Owens said. “How could they not? I understand that, totally. But the bottom line is this is the right thing to do for the safety. They can be upset and I’m hoping they get over that and we can all move on as a football team. I hope they’ll look back on this time and say this was a defining moment in Cerritos football history, to sit here on this situation of just stepping back, taking a deep breath, being able to be in a safe environment on the competition level and move forward.”