Narbonne High girls' basketball team thought it was doing a nice thing, wearing uniforms with pink letters and pink numbers to acknowledge breast cancer awareness.
Instead, their good deed got them punished — and nearly disqualified.
The team was reinstated to the City Section basketball playoffs on Tuesday by a three-person appeals panel, a decision that came a day after City Section officials had bounced Narbonne from competition because it violated a rule that prohibits teams from wearing anything but their official school colors. Narbonne's are green, gold and black.
Narbonne will face Palisades High in the section championship game Saturday at Cal State Dominguez Hills, but the Gauchos will be without Coach Victoria Sanders.
Sanders has been suspended for the remainder of the season as part of a trade-off that allowed her team to continue. That means she cannot guide her team in the title game or in the state playoffs should Narbonne advance. Also, the girls' basketball program will remain on probation through next season and the school will not be allowed to host a girls' basketball playoff game at Narbonne's home court in 2016.
"I can accept it," Sanders said of the punishment.
In a statement, the appeals panel said it reinstated the team as an attempt "to meet the spirit of the rule and place kids first."
High school competition in the state is governed by the California Interscholastic Federation. The City Section is the only one of the CIF's 10 sections that has a rule on uniform colors. Earlier in the school year, the North Hollywood High girls' volleyball team forfeited a match because it wore uniforms that were entirely black.
Roger Blake, executive director of the CIF, praised the appeals panel decision. In a statement, he said the original punishment was "not appropriate" and encouraged the section's leadership to review all of its bylaws and penalties to assure that any sanctions fit the infraction.
The decision to disqualify Narbonne was made by City Section Commissioner John Aguirre, who said the school's athletic director and principal were informed of the uniform violation at halftime of last Saturday's semifinal game against View Park. The Gauchos, the top-seeded team in the playoffs, won that game, 57-52.
Narbonne had worn the same uniforms in a quarterfinal win over University High and no one lodged a complaint. But an assistant section commissioner in attendance at the View Park game noted the violation there.
Commissioner Aguirre felt his hands were tied. "This is what the rule tells me," he said of his decision to order a forfeit and Narbonne's elimination. "I'm going to be consistent."
Coach Sanders said she was unaware Narbonne needed special permission to wear pink on its uniforms. "I was under the impression we were able to do it," she said. "I didn't know we had to fill out a waiver."
Several players were attending the funeral of a teammate's grandmother Monday when told their team had been disqualified.
Aguirre said Narbonne's "lack of communication to follow protocol" was a factor in his original decision. The school was already on probation because the girls' basketball team used an ineligible player during last year's state playoffs. That player received two technical fouls in a game, which automatically disqualified her from participation in the next game. Instead, she played.
"Administrators are responsible for making sure their teams and kids are doing the right things," Aguirre said.
Mark Pilon, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which raises funds for breast cancer research, was not aware of Narbonne's plight until he was told by a reporter.
"It's very unfortunate," he said, "this happened to young girls in sports."
Now, instead of Narbonne being disappointed, another team has had its championship hopes crushed.
View Park, which was told Monday it would be playing for the City title, learned Tuesday it would not.
Coach Corry Thomas said some of his players were upset. He was pragmatic.
"We didn't have the right to be in the championship," he said. "They have to understand they had their chance."