Column: Depleted rosters lead to forfeits at three Southern California high schools

Cathedral High in downtown Los Angeles is one of the schools in Southern California that had a rough week with problems in its football program.

Cathedral High in downtown Los Angeles is one of the schools in Southern California that had a rough week with problems in its football program.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It has been a miserable week for high school football in Southern California.

Two schools, Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula and Los Angeles Jordan, have forfeited games scheduled for Friday because of depleted rosters. Peninsula is down to 21 sound players. Jordan had only 11 players show up for practice Wednesday. Also discontinuing its varsity program this week for lack of eligible players was Animo South Los Angeles.

Add to that, there was an alleged hazing incident this week at L.A. Cathedral, where the football team is 7-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section’s Southeast Division. Eight football players have been suspended for Friday’s game against La Canada St. Francis while the school investigates, according to school officials.

In the case of Peninsula, some parents and players are furious that Principal Mitzi Cress made the decision to halt the varsity season and forfeit the final three games for what she said in a news release are safety concerns. The team’s record is 2-5. They challenge her conclusion, insisting that the team was capable of competing.


“The school, administration and coaches let us down,” team captain Jack Grimes wrote in an open letter to the community. “They taught us to face challenges head on, and now they refuse to follow that ideology.”

The school is allowing players to participate in a homecoming game next week against Inglewood even though the game will be an official forfeit. That’s not going to be a happy homecoming, to say the least.

“We had no idea this was coming,” senior receiver A.J. Seymour said. “We’ve had far less injuries than previous years.”

Don Austin, a former football coach who is superintendent for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, said the decision to forfeit was unanimous among administrators, coaches and training personnel.

“We empathize with these kids and know exactly what it means to make a decision like this,” he said. “It was not taken lightly at all.”

The big question is, how can a school with more than 2,500 students start the season with only 27 varsity players? Coach Mike Christensen had success at Lakewood, Carson and Los Angeles Loyola and is well respected, but those numbers are pretty bad.


“The first thing you have to do is retain your players,” Austin said. “You need to build this from the bottom up.”

Christensen did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Peninsula just opened a massive weight room facility and has plenty of resources, with the average median home price in Rolling Hills Estates at $1.377 million. There’s open enrollment in the district, and students can choose to attend rival Palos Verdes, which has had recent success in football.

The decision for L.A. Jordan to forfeit a game against Bell on Friday was far less controversial. Coach Darrell Divinity had few options with only 11 players at practice two days before a game. He had a core group of players stick it out through an 0-7 season, including a 72-0 loss to South East last week. Divinity said he had as many as 27 players on the roster during the season but injuries and ineligible students resulted in dwindling numbers.

Jordan, located in Watts with an enrollment of a little more than 700, has faced the challenge of a small football roster for years. The Bulldogs are not alone. Animo South L.A. was 0-7 and didn’t have enough eligible players to complete its final three games, City Section Commissioner John Aguirre said.

Franklin, another City Section team, was down to 17 varsity players this week because of injuries. Coach Narciso Diaz decided to add junior varsity players, so now there’s a 30-man roster and no JV team. Lots of coaches are dealing with dwindling numbers this time of year.

At Cathedral, Coach Kevin Pearson said he constantly talks to his players about making wise decisions, so he indicated extreme disappointment that a group of players were involved in an incident that took place in and out of the team room on Tuesday. Players have been suspended and more action could be taken depending on the outcome of a school investigation.


This is supposed be the time of year for excitement and anticipation as the playoffs approach. But it’s important that people be held accountable and lessons must be learned.

Twitter: @LATSondheimer