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Outside distractions cloud on-field achievements in strange season

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The high school sports season is coming to a strange close, thanks to outside distractions
High school coaches need to keep their rule book, video camera and lawyer's phone number handy

Who knew that the 2013-14 high school sports season ending this weekend would have been so greatly influenced by Wiffle balls, cellphones, lawyers and proms?

There have been so many sports dilemmas and ethical quandaries that the line separating right from wrong has become blurred, leading to intense debates about rules, rights and responsibilities.

This past month has been particularly bewildering. It started with the public disclosure of an audio recording from a player's cellphone of longtime La Mirada baseball Coach Kim Brooks lambasting his team with a rant full of profanities that led to his suspension just before the playoffs began.

Players and parents have been mostly supportive of Brooks, a respected coach and athletic director who apologized soon after he made his original comments. Outsiders have been far less forgiving. Clearly, Brooks' actions were unacceptable for high school students, and the continuing debate is what kind of penalty is appropriate.

More controversy erupted at the Southern Section Division 4 track prelims when Gardena Serra long jumper Adoree' Jackson was disqualified for walking across the track during the competition and watching video from a cellphone shown to him by his coach. Jackson was in a restricted area and in violation of Southern Section policy and a national rule on the use of electronic devices. Last week Jackson went to court seeking to be reinstated. A judge declined to hear his case on procedural grounds. Jackson went back to court Thursday to try again, and was rejected again.

That unfolded after the Southern Section forced Peninsula to forfeit its 7-2 baseball playoff win over Santa Monica. A Santa Monica assistant coach used a cellphone to shoot video of Peninsula taking illegal batting practice before the game. Peninsula players were hitting Wiffle balls while throwing overhand. The rule banning such activity is clearly stated in the playoff bulletin given to all schools.

Santa Monica Coach Kurt Schwengel has been criticized for filing the protest instead of simply warning Peninsula's coaching staff. Keith Olbermann of ESPN made him the "world's worst sports person" for the day. "May you never win another game," Olbermann opined.

No one likes it when people withhold information, waiting to see if their team loses before unleashing damaging material, but in this case Santa Monica informed the umpires before the game.

Then there was the prom fiasco. Last month members of Agoura's girls' lacrosse team chose to attend their prom rather than play in a championship match scheduled for 11 a.m. the day of the event. Who knew prom preparation required so much time?

Adding to the bizarre, JSerra pitcher Parker Joe Robinson injured his ankle while wearing cowboy boots at his prom, forcing him to miss a playoff game. He was just a kid trying to have fun.

The early hint that this was going to be the strangest of years occurred last June, when four private schools filed a federal lawsuit trying to prevent the Southern Section from moving the schools into sports areas far from their campuses. After thousands of dollars in legal costs, the schools won an arbitration ruling in March to stay in their areas.

The most perplexing predicament of all happened in March, when La Quinta's girls' soccer team was forced to forfeit a playoff victory over St. Margaret's when it was brought to the attention of the Southern Section that a player ejected from the previous game watched from just outside the stadium in violation of the rule that she couldn't be in attendance.

Dan Armstrong, the enraged La Quinta athletic director, told the Desert Sun, "You can quote me on this: I don't know how anybody can go on and, if it happens, think they're going to be CIF champs when they got beat. They didn't win it on the field."

But in sports, as in the court of law, winning on a technicality has become acceptable, and everyone had better start doing a better job reading and understanding rules and regulations.

What has been made clear in the past year is that the first-aid kit and player emergency cards aren't the only things on the must-bring list for coaches. Add rule book and cellphone with video camera to the don't-leave-home-without-it list. Also have a lawyer's phone number in your contacts.

And if we can land a man on the moon, then someone must be smart enough to figure out how to schedule a prom that doesn't conflict with CIF championships or playoff games.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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