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Serra Football Coach Blames the Press for Stories About Rough Play on Gridiron

Serra High, which likes to promote an image of athletic and academic excellence, lately has been trying to downplay a growing reputation for causing trouble on the football field.

Coach Joe Griffin says it’s an unfair rap.

“We’ve been victimized twice in the press,” he said. “It looks like Serra is a dangerous place. It’s not.”

That may be true, but here are the facts:

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Twice this season games at Serra have been interrupted by incidents. The Cavaliers’ game on Sept. 16 against Gardena was stopped in the fourth quarter after a fight involving fans spilled onto the field. Friday night, a fight between Serra and Pius X players temporarily halted play and resulted in four players, three from Serra, being ejected.

Erik Simien, Serra’s All-CIF linebacker, has been kicked out of three games for a variety of offenses. When asked about Simien, a South Bay prep coach replied: “I have nothing good to say about Erik Simien.”

Others say Serra players are guilty of late hits and taunting opponents. One observer simply called the Cavaliers “dirty.”

Griffin takes exception to the allegations. He says Serra plays intense, aggressive football but does not go head-hunting, as some have charged.

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Still, Serra administrators may be a little apprehensive heading into Friday night’s Camino Real League showdown with visiting Verbum Dei. Serra (4-3 overall, 2-0 in league play) is ranked No. 8 in the CIF Division II poll and Verbum Dei (5-2, 2-0) is ranked No. 6.

The rivals have had their share of athletic incidents over the years. In last year’s football game, won by Serra, players from both teams were ejected during an emotional contest, Griffin said.

Has Serra taken any precautions for Friday’s game?

“From a football standout, we’ve told the kids they definitely have to be under control,” Griffin said. “We don’t want them getting into a talking game with (Verbum Dei).”

The first-year coach claims both fights at Serra this season were exaggerated in newspaper accounts.

“The fight against Pius started as a pushing match between one of our defensive backs and one of their receivers,” Griffin said. “A couple of other kids starting pushing each other, and things kind of escalated.

“In the Gardena game, two girls from Gardena started fighting near the track. None of our students were really involved.”

Griffin says Simien, a 6-3, 225-pound senior who is expected to be among the area’s most highly recruited players, has become a target for opposing players.

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“People have been coming after him,” Griffin said. “He really doesn’t have a temper. He plays the game hard and physical. But, like I said, he’s been singled out by a lot of people. They talk at him and try to do dirty things. When he tries to do it back, he gets caught.”

Griffin says the only time he felt Simien deserved to be kicked out of a game was Sept. 23 when he was caught kicking a Palos Verdes player. He also was ejected Oct. 7 against Bishop Montgomery and Friday night for committing flagrant fouls.

Zan Mason, a 6-7 forward for Westchester, was named to Street & Smith’s High School All-America basketball squad and the Comets were ranked sixth in the nation by the magazine in its college/prep preseason issue.

Mason, a second-team choice, was one of three Westchester players and six South Bay seniors honored by the publication.

Selected high honorable mention were 5-8 point guard Sam Crawford of Westchester and 6-5 forward Harold Miner of Inglewood, last season’s South Bay Player of the Year. Earning honorable mention recognition were 6-5 forward Renaud Gordon of Westchester, 6-4 forward John Hardy of Rolling Hills and 6-11 center Ed Stokes of St. Bernard.

In girls basketball, 6-5 junior Lisa Leslie of Morningside was selected a third-team All-American and 6-4 twins Heidi and Heather Burge of Palos Verdes were named honorable mention by Street & Smith.

Few people will be happier than El Camino College football Coach John Featherstone if Palos Verdes quarterback David Walsh does not sign with a 4-year school after the season.

“He’s one of the more impressive quarterbacks in the area, if not the most impressive,” Featherstone said. “He could be another Danny Speltz for us.”

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Speltz, a standout at Rolling Hills High, quarterbacked El Camino to the national championship last season and now starts for Cal State Fullerton.

One of the surprises for Morningside’s football team has been the stellar play of wide receiver Shannon Thompson, who caught two touchdown passes last week in a 21-7 win over Culver City to help the Monarchs stay in first place in the Ocean League.

“He didn’t play very much last year,” said Coach Ron Tatum, whose team brings a 4-2 overall record and 4-0 league mark into Friday night’s home game against winless Mira Costa. “This summer he started coming to practice every day, and it’s paying dividends now.”

The 5-9, 160-pound Thompson is Morningside’s co-leader in touchdowns with six. He also is regarded as one of the school’s best baseball players, Tatum said. Thompson started at shortstop for the Monarchs last season.

Carson football Coach Gene Vollnogle says one of the reasons for the fine play of his secondary has been the emergence of sophomore cornerback Clayvand Thomas.

“He’s as good a 10th-grader as we’ve had in long time,” Vollnogle said.

PREP NOTES--Mira Costa’s water polo team clinched at least a tie for the Ocean League title Tuesday with a 7-4 victory over host Miraleste. Tony Kim scored 4 goals and J. Chapin added 3 for the Mustangs, who improved to 17-8 overall and 6-0 in league play. They are ranked No. 2 in the CIF 2-A Division . . . El Segundo has not allowed a point in four Santa Fe League football games, outscoring the opposition 96-0. The Eagles (7-0, 4-0) will go after their 12th straight regular-season win Friday night at Cantwell . . . South Torrance, following three straight victories, moved back into the CIF Division VII football top 10 this week. The Spartans (4-3, 3-1 in the Ocean League) are ranked 10th.

South Bay’s Top 10

Selected by Times Sportswriters

Rank, School, League Record

1 Leuzinger (Bay) 7-0

2 Carson (Southern) 6-1

3 Banning (Southern)) 6-1

4 Hawthorne (Bay) 5-2

5 Palos Verdes (Bay) 5-2

6 El Segundo (Santa Fe) 7-0

7 Morningside (Ocean) 4-2

8 Serra (Camino Real) 4-3

9 Westchester (Western) 5-2

10 North Torrance (Ocean) 4-3


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