A coach's incorrect interpretation of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section bylaws on the eligibility of a transfer student has cost the Leffingwell Christian High School boys basketball team the top Small Schools Division ranking and apparently a chance at a playoff berth.
Officials at the private school have been notified by the Southern Section that all games played prior to Feb. 1 have been forfeited. The Lions were in the midst of the school's best season with a 13-4 overall mark. Leffingwell was 8-0 in Academy League play.
At issue are 17 games in which junior starter Rodney Harriel played. A forward, Harriel transferred from Gahr High School this fall, apparently after he moved in with his father. Harriel's parents are divorced, according to school officials, and the father does not live within Gahr's attendance boundaries. Leffingwell officials felt Harriel was eligible to play immediately, since he had moved out of Gahr's jurisdiction to his father's home, which they said is in or near Paramount.
However, the Southern Section ruled that the son had already established a residence (his mother's home) while attending Gahr and that he should not be allowed to play this year at Leffingwell because his residence for athletic eligibility remained the same. "Eligibility for an athlete is established with the first residence (in a season), in this case, his mother," said Southern Section Administrator Dean Crowley. "Our rules on that are quite clear."
Leffingwell Athletic Director Mike Pilcher shouldered the blame.
"I screwed up," he said. "I misinterpreted the rule. "We should be strong next year and, hopefully, we will be able to vindicate ourselves."
Pilcher, who doubles as the school's baseball coach, is in his second year as athletic director.
At least one member of the Academy League sparked an inquiry when it complained to the Southern Section. None of the parties involved would name the league member. Lion Coach Greg Page would only say that the league member who complained had been defeated by the Lions in a league game this season.
"Punish me or punish the A.D.," he said of the mistake. "But don't punish the boys. It hurts me to see the boys hurt like this."
Pilcher saw a silver lining in the experience.
"The CIF tells me that four or five teams have been tripped up on this just this year," he said. "It's a little late in learning, but this split parent stuff is tough. If this happens (comes up) again I'll burn up the phone lines to that place (the Southern Section office)."