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High School Sports

Column: A teachable moment is lost after Narbonne’s postseason ban

Narbonne football players celebrate their City Section championship in 2016, the third of what would be five in a row.
Narbonne football players celebrate their City Section championship in 2016, the third of what would be five in a row.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

There was abandoned football equipment and unclaimed shoes scattered all over the Harbor City Narbonne weight room on Friday afternoon as players hugged and offered goodbyes after their senior night on Friday had been canceled because someone in authority apparently feared the worst instead of trusting the kids.

It’s one thing to uncover ineligible players and make a team forfeit victories. It’s an utter failure to believe teenage players could be disciplined and then not play a game without fighting for fear they would take out their anger and frustration on one another. What a lost opportunity to teach a valuable lesson in how to deal with adversity.

“No class, no dignity,” said Shenae Berry, the mother of Narbonne defensive lineman Jordan Berry. “Our kids have never displayed that kind of behavior.”

Narbonne interim coach Joe Aguirre said he was told the Gauchos’ game against Banning was canceled for safety reasons. My hunch is it had more to do with school officials refusing to tell the coaching staff which players had been declared ineligible after the coaches wanted to pull them from the team and still play the game.

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This is the sad, unworthy ending to a story many saw coming. It turns out that five-time defending City Section Open Division champion Narbonne, which had been 9-0, is now 0-9 after Los Angeles Unified School District officials did surprise address checks and discovered multiple players were in violation of CIF rules requiring a valid change of address.

The question is how many football teams with multiple transfers could survive a late-season visit to check their addresses? Usually schools do address checks at the beginning of the season to verify their validity and put the matter to rest. It’s good the LAUSD followed up. Cheating shouldn’t be acceptable, even if the excuse is everyone does it.

The adults failed the kids — again. It’s always that way. Families look for shortcuts when trying to get a scholarship offer, then play the transfer game. Meanwhile, the neighborhood kids are burned again.

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Blame the Narbonne administration for failing to double-check and triple-check the many new players showing up on campus. This ending was inevitable. Players wanted to transfer, but their parents weren’t willing or able to follow the rules.

This will happen every time ambition becomes more important than common sense. It happened in the late 1990s when Lakewood Artesia had to forfeit basketball championships because of violations regarding eligibility, undue influence and finances. It happened at L.A. Fremont in 2006, when the basketball program was banned from the playoffs for using six ineligible players, several of whom arrived from the East Coast. It happened at L.A. Hawkins, where the football team had to forfeit every game in 2016 because of an ineligible player.

This is high school sports, where lessons are supposed to be learned. Some don’t consider that to be as important as winning.

“This is why we put our kids in sports, to teach them dignity and respect,” Shenae Berry said.


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