Column: Dark clouds hover over Narbonne dynasty
As the temperature reached the high 80s on a scorching Saturday afternoon at Moorpark High, the football players at Harbor City Narbonne remained the coolest teenagers around in the face of storm clouds hovering around their program.
Standout receiver Traeshon Holden was in shorts with his arm draped around teammate Qadash Towner trying to comfort him after a 41-21 loss to Highland (Utah) Lone Peak. Holden, an Alabama commit, still hasn’t been cleared by the CIF to play after transferring from Baltimore.
“It’s hard,” he said.
And yet, he was showing leadership in a moment of personal adversity.
The Gauchos (1-1) are usually the ones inflicting punishment with five consecutive City Section championships, but the defending 6A state champs from Utah controlled the line and showed off an amazing all-around athlete in senior Nate Ritchie, who kicked four field goals, had two interceptions, recorded a sack and repeatedly boomed kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
“Forget about this,” All-City linebacker Jordan Banks told his teammates. “This isn’t going to happen again.”
How well Narbonne players, coaches and fans move forward is going to be one of the storylines of the 2019 season.
“This is a bump in the road,” interim coach Joe Aguirre told his players.
This team has been enduring lots of bumps. September marks the fifth month of a Los Angeles Unified School District investigation into an allegation of academic fraud at the school. No one is discussing specifics or whether the investigation has expanded to other areas.
The last LAUSD statement from early August said: “Los Angeles Unified takes allegations related to Narbonne High School very seriously, and is working tirelessly to ensure the continued safety of our students and efficacy of our programs. For confidentiality reasons, we are not at liberty to discuss this matter further at this time.”
The facts are this:
In May, LAUSD announced that two staff members had been reassigned. Football players were brought into a room and interviewed by investigators. Then football coach Manuel Douglas was temporarily reassigned. By August, the district had cleaned house. Narbonne has a new principal, new assistant principal and new athletic director. Douglas has remained reassigned to his home. There are signs of his growing defiance.
Douglas tweeted a photo of himself last week on a private charter flight headed to Clovis for the Gauchos’ season-opening game against Buchanan. A Narbonne assistant was in the photo giving an inappropriate gesture. This week, on his Twitter page, Douglas called himself “head coach of team outcast.”
City Section Commissioner Vicky Lagos said she received a letter from Narbonne’s new administration in early August informing her that an investigation was underway in regard to possible violations of CIF rules.
Meanwhile, Aguirre and Douglas’ former assistants are trying to keep players focused on what they can control.
“We’ll always stay together no matter what,” said safety Jared Greenfield, who returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown on Saturday. “We’re teenagers. We don’t worry about the politics. We worry about playing football.”
What’s becoming clear is that Narbonne’s domination of City Section football appears in jeopardy no matter what the investigation uncovers. The only question is how far the Gauchos might fall if Douglas doesn’t come back.
There’s already speculation Narbonne could be the next Hawkins in the City Section. Hawkins was gaining attention for its top college prospects and high-profile transfers. Then the coaching staff was dismissed after the 2016 season following an LAUSD investigation. The team had to forfeit all its games because of ineligible players. Since then, Hawkins has gone 1-22.
At some point, the LAUSD needs to step forward and tell everyone the results of its investigation and end months of rumors and speculation.
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