Fullerton Junior All American Bears

The Fullerton Junior All American Bears are members of the Orange County Junior All American Football Conference (OCJAAF). Comprised of twenty-nine (29) chapter (city) members throughout the Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, OCJAAF is the largest youth football and cheerleading organization in the nation. The Fullerton Junior All American Bears are honored to contribute to OCJAAF's diversity, which makes the Orange County Junior All American Football Conference number one in competition. The Fullerton Junior All American Bears are proud to sponsor OCJAAF's core values of "family" and of "community" - the standards that keep OCJAAF and the Fullerton Junior All American Bears a leading youth football and cheerleading organization. Families come in many combinations and we celebrate the word of "family" as meaning: team, the Fullerton Junior All American Bears, community and the OCJAAF Conference. There is nothing stronger than the spirit in the word of family and you will see it and feel it within the Fullerton Junior All American Bears organization and our OCJAAF Conference.

The objective of the Fullerton Junior All American Bears program is to inspire youth, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin; to practice the ideals of health, citizenship and character; to bring our youth closer together through the means of a common interest in sportsmanship, fair play and fellowship; to impart to the game elements of safety, sanity and intelligent supervision; and to keep the welfare of the player and/or cheerleader first, foremost and entirely free of adult lust for glory.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pop Warner Wouldn't Like Pop Warner

Published: Oct. 23, 2012 Updated: Oct. 24, 2012 7:41 a.m.

Mickadeit: Pop Warner wouldn't like Pop Warner


Lots of guys can say they played in Pop Warner. Julian Ertz might be the only guy still around who can say he played for Pop Warner.

In the late 1930s, Ertz was a reserve fullback at Temple University, where the legendary Glenn "Pop" Warner ended his career.

As such, Ertz, 93, believes he can say without qualification that Pop Warner would be mortified to learn that men who coach kids in the program that bears his name allegedly paid players to injure other players.

Ertz rang me up after reading the Pop Warner bounty scandal articles by Keith Sharon and me. Could Ertz actually be the last person alive who played for Pop Warner?

There's no easy way to know for sure, but he played on Pop Warner's last team, the 1938 Temple Owls, and he knows of no other living Pop Warner player.

"I know that from the way he conducted himself, that in no way would he have wanted one of his players to hurt another player," Ertz told me during my visit to his home in Laguna Woods last weekend. "A 'gentleman' is the way I would describe him." A College Football Hall of Fame site quotes a Warner mantra: "You cannot play two kinds of football at once, dirty and good."

Warner was already a legend by the time he got to Temple in 1933. He had already led three national championship teams at Pitt, coached Jim Thorpe at Carlisle, invented the screen pass and, oh, yeah, lent his name to a youth football program.

He also had invented shoulder pads – U.S. Patent No. 1,887,473 bears his name – and thigh pads which, ironically, a Tustin Pop Warner team allegedly altered to get a player in under the weight limit.

Ertz, by contrast, was just a 19-year-old kid from western Pennsylvania when he matriculated at Temple in Philadelphia in the fall of 1938. Warner had difficulty walking, Ertz recalls, so he stood on a raised platform on the sidelines and watched practices.

"On each play, he knew what all 22 players had done. He'd point and say very softly, 'OK, so-and-so, you didn't do this. And so-and-so, you didn't do that.' He never gave you hell in front of the other players, he was always analyzing."

Ertz doesn't overplay his role on the team. He was beaten out for starting fullback by a guy named Jim Honochick, who later became a Major League Baseball umpire. Nor does he claim Pop Warner was without vice. "He always had cigarette. He'd finish one and use it to light the next."

(Ertz had his own vice of sorts at Temple – he sneaked off for music lessons that he never told his teammates about.)

Warner was big on school. "Pop would softly say, 'Be sure to go to class and get good grades. ... You're here to get an education.'"

That Ertz did, receiving a degree in business. After serving as a B-24 navigator in World War II, he went to law school at the University of New Mexico. He practiced in Albuquerque for a while, then moved to Orange County, where he practiced some 30 years.

The scholarship side of football that Pop Warner embodied was not lost on Ertz. In O.C., he was a charter member and ultimately president of the local chapter of the National Football Foundation, which each year honors high school football scholar-athletes.

What does he think of the bounty allegations besmirching the Pop Warner name? "Terrible. Awful. If I were a parent and I had any choice, I'd see (the offending coaches) never got to work with the kids again."

Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pop Warner At It Again

Published: Nov. 9, 2012 Updated: 10:03 p.m.

Mickadeit: Pop Warner clears itself



I'm disappointed national Pop Warner didn't find that a bounty program existed in Tustin, but I can't say I'm surprised. What did you expect? Pop Warner would say, "Yes, our coaches in Orange County conducted a bounty program in which players were paid when they knocked other players out of the game. Parents, please file your lawsuits against us accordingly."?

It doesn't work like that. There are investigations and there are independent investigations.

National Pop Warner's investigation into the Tustin Pop Warner was conducted by an 800-lawyer international law firm that defends Pop Warner in lawsuits. An independent investigation would have been conducted by a law firm or private investigator with no previous ties to Pop Warner and that was instructed to release its own report directly to the public about whatever it found.

This is not to impugn Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, or its L.A.-based attorney, Ian Stewart, who conducted the investigation. Wilson Elser has a fiduciary duty to be a zealous advocate for Pop Warner. The law firm can't lie, but it has no obligation to tell the public what it found and, in fact, it could be guilty of malpractice and face discipline if it did.

Given that, what the law firm conducted looks more like a series of prelitigation depositions than an investigation designed to tell the public anything useful.

Josh Pruce, the national Pop Warner spokesman, told me Friday that Wilson Elser was selected because "they have knowledge of how Pop Warner works." But how can the firm can be impartial when it is looking out for your best interests? I asked. Pruce replied: "I can't speak to that either way. I don't have a comment."

So, we'll probably never know what Stewart's investigation said, exactly, and why and how Pop Warner came to the conclusions it did about what it showed.

All we know about Stewart's investigation is what National Pop Warner released on Friday, a statement that condensed it to two sentences: "The investigation concluded that there was no pay-for-hits program or premeditated bounty system. The investigation did conclude, however, that one player may have been rewarded for his performance in one game."

Keith Sharon and I know what four players and two assistant coaches told us – the head coach and the defensive coordinator offered money for big hits and more money if those hits resulted in an opponent being knocked out of a game.

We know our sources talked to Stewart. As Keith pointed out Friday in the newsroom, there were fewer people who told the NFL about the New Orleans Saints.

Maybe the Tustin players and coaches told Stewart a different story than they told us. Maybe Stewart or Pop Warner concluded they lied or misunderstood and decided to believe the coaches who say no such offers were made. Did he believe some people and not others? Who? Why?

But Pop Warner would not discuss the evidence it collected or release transcripts or even summaries of the interviews. Stewart had not called me back as of my deadline Friday afternoon.

Still, some inferences can be drawn from what Pop Warner did do.

It suspended the entire coaching staff of seven for a full year. If just one player "may have been rewarded for his performance in one game," that seems like a rather Draconian penalty, doesn't it?

Pop Warner's statement says, "We hope members nationwide will learn from this incident and be reminded that the focus should always be on the safety and well being of our young athletes."

Pop Warner, however, doesn't link the player's "performance" or the "reward" for it with the "safety and well being" of players. How, specifically, does rewarding players make the game less safe? How did it do so in this case? To draw that causal connection would come dangerously close to admitting legal liability.

Reading between the lines, my best guess is that this was the best way out of a bad situation. Don't concede liability. But get rid of the bad actors for as long as you can and hope they stay away.

The most important question is: Has Pop Warner done everything it can to protect kids? Without knowing what people told Stewart, we can't know. All we know for sure is that by hiring a top-drawer law firm to conduct an investigation into its own actions, Pop Warner did everything it can to protect itself.

Mickadeit usually writes Mon.-Fri. Contact: 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Pop Warner Suspends Coaches

Published: Nov. 9, 2012 Updated: 10:08 p.m.

Pop Warner suspends coaches, denies bounties


The entire coaching staff of the 2011 Tustin Red Cobras Junior Pee Wee football team has been suspended for one year, but a monthlong investigation by National Pop Warner ended Friday with the conclusion that though one payment "may have" been made to a player, there was no evidence of a broader bounty program.

Friday's report, which is the culmination of an investigation conducted by an attorney who represents Pop Warner in lawsuits, disregarded the statements of several parents who testified that Tustin coaches targeted opponents, offered their 10- and 11-year-old players cash for hard tackles, and offered more cash for knocking those targeted players out of the game.

Darren Crawford, who coached the 2011 Tustin Red Cobras Pop Warner football team, was suspended along with the rest of the team's coaching staff for a year. The suspensions came after Pop Warner's national organization concluded a monthlong investigation into allegations that the coaches paid players for big hits and to hurt other youth players. The investigation concluded that no bounty program took place, but at least one instance of a payer being paid for performance may have taken place.

"The investigation concluded that there was no pay-for-hits program or premeditated bounty system," said Jon Butler, Executive Director, Pop Warner Little Scholars in an emailed statement. "The investigation did conclude, however, that one player may have been rewarded for his performance in one game."

Butler's statement explained that since rewarding players for performance is against Pop Warner rules, all the coaches bear responsibility for the violation.

Former Red Cobra head coach Darren Crawford, former assistant coach Richard Bowman, former league President Pat Galentine and four other former assistant coaches will be unable to hold positions as coaches or administrators in Pop Warner football for one year. Included in that suspended group are former offensive line coach John Zanelli and equipment manager Paul Bunkers, two of the parents who made the allegations.

Seven families – all of which were represented in interviews with National Pop Warner investigators – have told The Register that coaches Darren Crawford and Richard Bowman offered cash to their 10- and 11-year-old players for big hits during three playoff games during the 2011 season. Crawford, Bowman and Galentine have said no cash was ever offered.

Crawford and Bowman did not return phone calls Friday. Galentine hung up when he was asked to comment about the suspensions.

The ruling confused the parents who made the allegations.

"It's like trying to argue that someone is half pregnant," said John Zanelli, the former Red Cobras offensive line coach, who was the most outspoken critic of Crawford and Bowman. "I think Pop Warner tried to split the difference in order to limit their (legal) exposure and still try to sound credible. This decision was a cop out.

"If there was no pay-for-hits program, then what was the player rewarded for? The best smile? Best attitude? Best dressed? Was he rewarded with cookies or cash? If there was no 'premeditated' bounty program, was it then a hindsight bounty program as we now know it to be?

"If one player 'may' have been rewarded, then why suspend the coaches? Was he rewarded or not? Are all of these parents and kids lying? Who's left to protect the kids if Pop Warner puts its own first?"

Bunkers said: "It's a joke. Either it happened or it didn't. If nothing happened, why are you suspending people? It's stupid."

National Pop Warner spokesman Josh Pruce refused to answer questions about the testimony saying it was confidential and no transcript would be released.

But the conclusion is clear: The investigators did not find enough credibility among the parents and players who said multiple players were offered cash in multiple games. Pruce said he would not answer the question: Did the parents who made the allegations lie?

"They had a predetermined outcome," Zanelli said of the investigators.

The Tustin Pop Warner board of directors released a statement Friday. In part, it said:

"Tustin Pop Warner is pleased to learn that an in-depth investigation completed by National Pop Warner concluded that there was no pay-for-hits program or premeditated bounty system at our League, or any evidence that Tustin demonstrated a lack of institutional control and responsibility ... We are disappointed that National Pop Warner has chosen to suspend members of our dedicated volunteer coaching staff, which includes Pat Galentine. National Pop Warner has advised us that Pat will not be permitted to resume his duties as president of our League during the term of the suspensions. We are saddened by this decision and want to express our appreciation to Pat for his service to the League."

The Orange County Register broke the story of the bounty program on Sept. 23 after four parents and four players confirmed Tustin coaches had targeted opponents, offered cash for big hits and offered more cash for knocking those targeted players out of three playoff games in the 2011 season.

In on of those games, a running back from Santa Margarita suffered a mild concussion, was knocked out of the game and a bounty was paid, Zanelli said.

In total, The Register contacted (some via email or written statement) 12 parents of the 22 Tustin Red Cobras players – seven parents said coaches offered money for hits, five parents said no such payoffs were offered. Four players contacted by the Register (one was through a written statement) said the coaches offered money for big hits.

The allegations didn't surface until long after the 2011 season, in which the Red Cobras qualified for the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in Florida before losing in the semifinals.

In May of 2012, one of the Red Cobras' players saw a report about the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal on television (Saints coaches were accused of offering money for taking opponents out of games, and several coaches and players have been suspended). The player told his father that the Red Cobras had used a similar incentive system during the playoff games of 2011.

That father (who is not being named to protect the identity of his son) called several Red Cobras parents, including John Zanelli, who was the Red Cobras' offensive line coach. Zanelli was in the midst of a battle with Tustin Pop Warner because he was the most outspoken of a group of parents trying to form a new team with seven of the Red Cobras' players.

The battle over the new team was ugly. Zanelli received a lifetime ban from Pop Warner after a confrontation with Tustin President Pat Galentine. Zanelli made allegations that Tustin coaches had cheated by allowing an overweight player to participate in several games. He made several other allegations that did not include the bounty program.

When the father asked the embattled Zanelli if Tustin coaches had paid money for big hits, Zanelli said yes. Zanelli told The Register at the time he was reluctant to talk about the bounty program because he considered it a much more serious offense than his other allegations. The bounty, Zanelli said, might bright down the entire league.

In May, Zanelli wrote up a chronology of allegations that included the bounty program for the first time. Zanelli circulated his chronology among some Red Cobras parents. The chronology was passed around to officials in other Pop Warner leagues and eventually was sent to the National Pop Warner office in Pennsylvania.

National Pop Warner turned over the allegations to the Orange Empire Conference (OEC). An investigation was launched, and despite testimony from six parents and four players that coaches had offered money for big hits on targeted players, the OEC found "no evidence" of a bounty program and cleared the Tustin coaches of wrongdoing.

It wasn't until The Register published its story – and the number of parents confirming that money had been offered grew to seven – that National Pop Warner decided to step in and investigate.

The story became a media sensation around the world. NBC, CNN and local television stations picked up the story. Radio stations in Pennsylvania and Florida covered the story. Even the British Broadcasting Company featured the Tustin Pop Warner story in Europe.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gambling in Youth Football?!?!


DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Authorities said Tuesday they uncovered a massive gambling operation targeting youth football games in South Florida, leading them to arrest nine men, including several coaches with extensive criminal backgrounds who they say exploited kids to turn a profit.

The 18-month long investigation started when ESPN journalists brought Broward County Sheriff's officials surveillance video showing parents openly exchanging money in the stands while watching their kids' tackle football games. Authorities later uncovered the stakes on pee wee games were high, with more than $100,000 wagered on the youth football championship.

Coaches routinely met before games and set point spreads, investigators said, but they do not believe the games were thrown or that coaches encouraged players not to complete a touchdown in order to control the outcome. Authorities said they had no evidence that the players were aware of the bets.
"It's about kids being exploited unfortunately by greedy parents and greedy grown-ups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals," Sheriff Al Lamberti said.

After months of surveillance, digging through trash cans and raiding two gambling houses, authorities arrested alleged ringleader Brandon Bivins, known as 'Coach B' in the community, charging him with felony bookmaking and keeping a gambling house. Eight others were also charged Monday with bookmaking and some were charged with keeping a gambling house.

It's unclear if Bivins has an attorney. A phone message and email sent to one of the other suspect's attorneys was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Authorities said the suspects have direct ties to the South Florida Youth Football League and several have extensive criminal histories. Bivins has been convicted of cocaine possession, grand theft auto, and marijuana possession with intent to sell.

According to the league's website, it has 22 clubs and 6,000 players, ranging from pee wee to teens, in three counties. Many of the children come from impoverished neighborhoods.

Emails and phone calls to several officers in the league were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The website says the sole purpose of the league "is to benefit children" and instill wholesome values.
Bold print on the league's website warns that anyone taking bets on games will be asked to leave. "The SFYFL is taking a hard stand on gambling, recruiting, paying kids to play and big hits on players."

Perhaps more disturbing than the gambling operation was the extensive criminal background of six coaches, authorities said.

An affidavit claims Bivins ran a fake barbershop, complete with barber stations and vending machines, as a front for a gambling house. But behind what appeared to be a closet door was a narrow hallway leading to a seedy gambling room where Bivins and others took bets on professional, college and youth games behind conspicuously dark tinted windows.

An informant placed numerous bets at Red Carpet Kutz Barbershop and another gambling front, Showtime Sports, during the investigation, according to the affidavit.

Authorities said they seized nearly $40,000 from a drop safe at one of the storefronts and took another $20,000 from Bivins' home. They believe `Coach B' was skimming off the top of the bets.
"(Bivins has) been to Florida state prison. He's out and he's coaching youth football," Lt. Frank Ballante said.

Bivins was the president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, one of the most successful teams, and oversaw the coaches. He also interacted with the players, Ballante said.

Deerfield Beach City officials ramped up their background screening process for youth coaches about 18-months ago when authorities told them about the investigation, but each city is in charge of setting its own ordinances and they vary widely on the issue.

Authorities worry that betting on games can lead to violence and other crimes. The gambling bust comes after a Miami youth football coach was arrested earlier this month for punching a referee in the face during a game. In another South Florida city, a coach followed another coach home and killed his dog in front of him, Ballante said.

Those incidents were not related to the gambling busts, but authorities said it's a lesson for cities to ramp up their background check ordinances.

Ballante warned gambling could end "up with a human being being shot over a football game and it's not because their team lost a game or their kid didn't score the touchdown it's because they lost $40,000 on that play."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pop Warner Game = 5 Concussions

One Pop Warner game results in five concussions

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / October 20, 2012          
In an alarming case of young athletes being put at risk, five children suffered concussions last month in a Pop Warner football game that resulted in disciplinary action against both coaches and association presidents.
The injured children, all 10 to 12 years old, played for the Tantasqua Pee Wees Sept. 15 when they were overrun, 52-0, by a Southbridge team whose website’s banner states, “Are You Tough Enough.’’
The five children missed various numbers of school days because of their injuries, and one has not returned to the field.
The coaches, Southbridge’s Scott Lazo and Tantasqua’s Erik Iller, were suspended for the remainder of the season and placed on probation through the 2013 season after a lengthy hearing Thursday conducted by Central Mass. Pop Warner.
The association presidents, Lazo’s brother, Doug Lazo of Southbridge, and Iller’s wife, Jen Iller of Tantasqua, also were placed on probation through the 2013 season because they attended the game and failed to take action, according to the hearing committee.
In addition, the three officials who worked the game have been permanently banned by Central Mass. Pop Warner.
“Having multiple concussions in one game is something that should never happen, ever,’’ said Patrick Inderwish, president of Central Mass. Pop Warner. “One concussion is too many.’’
He said the hearing committee attributed the injuries to “bad officiating and decision-making by the coaches and all other parties involved.’’
“That game doesn’t represent what Pop Warner stands for in any way,’’ Inderwish said.
Pop Warner regulations require officials to invoke a series of mercy rules once the gap in the score reaches 28 points. But the mercy rules went unenforced and at least one boy suffered a concussion on a play that should have been ruled dead.
Inderwish said the officials had an obligation to stop the game if they considered the safety of the players at risk.
Tantasqua filed a complaint after the game, alleging violations of weigh-in procedures, the mercy rule, and player safety. Yet the hearing committee ultimately ruled that the Tantasqua staff shared responsibility for the injuries.
Jen Iller, whose son played in the game and was not injured, said she was very disturbed by the concussions. But she said she considered the discipline against Tantasqua “completely unfair’’ because the officials put the children at risk by failing to invoke the mercy rule and take other preventative measures.
Efforts to reach Scott Lazo, who is a member of the Southbridge School Committee, and Doug Lazo were unsuccessful.
Inderwish said the hearing committee disciplined the Tantasqua staff as severely as Southbridge’s because the Tantasqua officials also violated Pop Warner’s code of conduct obligating them to protect their players.
“There’s an obligation to walk across the field and say, ‘This thing is out of hand,’ and nobody did that,’’ he said.
Iller said Tantasqua staff members with emergency medical training evaluated the injured children during the game but did not consider their conditions serious enough to warrant further attention. Because the concussions were not diagnosed until after the game, the children continued playing. Numerous medical reports have indicated that playing with undiagnosed concussions increases the risk of more serious damage.
“Additional hits to the head in the minutes after a concussion can be devastating,’’ said Chris Nowinski, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, which is dedicated to addressing the problem of sports concussions. “We do a terrible job diagnosing concussions at the time of injury because they are so difficult to see as an observer.
“There is almost no hope of diagnosing a concussion in a child at the time of injury unless it is obvious because they are knocked out.’’
The incident raises questions about the ability of Pop Warner Little Scholars, the nation’s largest youth football organization, to enforce the rules it established in 2010 aimed at reducing brain injuries caused by concussions. The rules were strengthened this year to limit contact in practices.
“Nothing is more important to Pop Warner than the safety and well-being of our players,’’ the hearing committee stated. “Pop Warner has put in place the most stringent concussion rules in youth sports and we will continue to find ways to ensure football is safe and fun for our young athletes.’’
Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.end of story marker

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pop Warner's Cover Up

Published: Oct. 18, 2012 Updated: 6:33 p.m.

A gap in Pop Warner video: Cover-up?


Investigators looking into the Tustin Pop Warner bounty allegations have been given video of a youth football game played last season which could help them determine whether five missing minutes on the video is evidence of a cover-up.

The video supplied by the Tustin Red Cobras' videographer to team parents last October — and brought to the attention of The Register this week — is missing six of Tustin's defensive plays, two of which resulted in cash payments for Tustin players, according to a former assistant coach on that team.

The video has come to light at a time when National Pop Warner officials are investigating accusations that during the 2011 season Tustin's Junior Pee Wee coaches created an incentive program in which opponents were targeted and Red Cobras' 10-and 11-year-old players were paid cash for big hits and more cash for knocking targeted opponents out of games.

Former Red Cobra assistant coach John Zanelli on Thursday turned the video — plus a second video that shows every play in the game — over to Pop Warner investigators.

Head coach Darren Crawford and assistant coach Richard Bowman have denied paying money for hits. Crawford and Tustin Pop Warner President Pat Galentine have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

The video from last season's Oct. 29 playoff game against Yorba Linda was posted on Box.net, a file-sharing website that can be accessed only by team parents and invited guests. It shows the game's first two plays, then a disclaimer appears on the screen: "Missing Video through minute 5:54 in the 1st Quarter." Play then resumes from that point and continues uninterrupted until the end of the game.

The end of the video says: "CREDITS Richard Bethell (with apologies for the missing video)."

Zanelli, who is among a group of parents and players making the bounty allegations, was sent another video this week by a parent who is not being named to protect the identity of his son. Zanelli played the two videos side-by-side for The Register.

The second video shows two big hits by Tustin players. In the first hit, a Tustin player sacks the Yorba Linda quarterback, causing a fumble and resulting in a touchdown for the Red Cobras. In the second hit, a Tustin player makes a hard tackle, driving the Yorba Linda ball carrier into the ground on his back. Neither play resulted in a penalty against Tustin.

According to two players and two parents interviewed by The Register, both players who made those tackles were voted by their teammates as having made the game's "big hits."

The father of one of the players who won the vote told The Register he saw his son receive money from Crawford for that hit. Crawford told The Register that his memory is "hazy" from that day, and that "Maybe I did give him money to go to the snack bar."

The Bethell video does not include those plays.

"It is way too coincidental that the two players who received money were on both ends of the missing footage," Zanelli said. "The missing footage would help conceal the program from the parents who watched the video."

In an interview this week, Bethell said no edits (other than adding the disclaimer and credit line) were made to the video. Bethell, the team's videographer for the previous nine games of that season, said he simply "missed those plays." Bethell said he does remember adding the disclaimer including the color of the font he used. The video was posted on Oct. 31, 2011, two days after the game and has not been modified since.

Bethell said he did not remember what happened to cause the gap in the video.

"I may have gone to the car to get batteries," Bethell said. "Do I remember (going to the car)? No. Not precisely.

"If I had those sections of the game," Bethell added, "they would be in the video."

Bethell accused Zanelli of lying about details of the investigation.

"He (Zanelli) is probably not telling the truth about anything else involved in this matter."

So far in the investigation, The Register has confirmed that six parents and players have told National Pop Warner investigators that Red Cobras players were offered cash for hits during three playoff games in 2011.

Zanelli, former equipment manager Paul Bunkers and others have said players were offered between $20 and $50 by Crawford and Bowman for big hits in games against Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino, and that the kids got more money when opposing players were knocked out of the game. In the Santa Margarita game, a Red Cobras player was paid after he delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on a Santa Margarita ball carrier who left the game with a mild concussion.

The Red Cobras advanced to the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in 2011 before being eliminated in the semifinals by a team from Washington D.C.

Contact the writer at ksharon@ocregister.com

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pop Warner sued in the I.E.

Published: Oct. 17, 2012 Updated: 6:22 p.m.

Mickadeit: Pop Warner sued in the I.E.


Even as Pop Warner investigates allegations that some Orange County coaches instituted a bounty program, the youth football organization and a coach in Riverside County have been sued by parents who say the coach wrenched their son's neck at a game.

The player's father contacted me after reading the articles Keith Sharon and I wrote alleging that coaches on the Tustin Red Cobras paid players who hit opponents the hardest, with added cash if they knocked them out of the game.

"Our goal is similar to yours, I think, in that we hope to bring light and attention to these problems so that the situation may be improved for the kids still in the program," wrote Brett Goldberg, whose 7-year-old son, Chase, played on the Riverside Buccaneers Pop Warner team last year.

The lawsuit alleges that at a game played on Oct. 2, 2011 coach Steve Tims was "seething in anger" at the play of Chase and pulled him from the game. "As Chase approached the sideline," the lawsuit says, "Mr. Tims violently grabbed Chase by the facemask, completely stopping his motion and wrenching Chase's neck. Mr. Tims then towered above Chase ... and began to jerk and pull Chase's facemask while screaming insults related to Chase's performance."

Chase's mother ran to the sidelines to intervene, the suit says. The next day, Chase's doctor found he had a "grade 3 neck contusion, consistent with whiplash (and) ... interior bruising on the front and side of his neck." He wore a neck brace for several days and took pain medication.

Tims told me, "It never happened. ... Absolutely not." He declined further comment.

The Goldbergs have alleged assault, battery and seven other torts.

Pop Warner had not filed an answer as of last week but was seeking arbitration, which Goldberg said he will oppose. Ian Stewart, a Los Angeles lawyer hired by Pop Warner, said he is investigating the incident and couldn't comment at this time.

Goldberg said his son physically recovered in about a week. "He was very frightened by his coach. I feel the physical injury is evidence of how extreme the verbal berating was. We don't talk about the incident with him (to date) and he's moved on, having lost interest in football. He plays soccer now at AYSO Riverside and we've been pleased with our experience with this organization."

Stewart is the same attorney conducting the Tustin investigation for national Pop Warner. Within the last week, at least six of the parents and former Tustin players who talked to Keith and me were interviewed by Stewart and another Pop Warner official. It's unclear when it will be concluded.

Contact 714:796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.

Friday, September 28, 2012

More Orange County Pop Warner Headlines

Published: Sept. 28, 2012 Updated: 3:53 p.m.

Mickadeit: Football for 35 pounders?


Film Night. That's when this lunacy really hit home to me. I had asked an 11-year-old member of last year's Tustin Red Cobras Pop Warner team when he first heard a coach talk about cash-for-injuries. "At Film Night," he'd said. He became the third player to tell Keith Sharon and me about the bounty program.

Film Night? Film Night for 10- and 11-year-old boys should be "Old Yeller" or "Toy Story." The notion that kids' football has evolved – devolved – to the point they are dissecting game films (on a school night, no less) tells you how far off track Pop Warner has gotten. And film nights are apparently within the Pop Warner rules. Other tactics employed by last year's Tustin team were not.

The import of Keith's report today is it shows that a Tustin Pop Warner bounty program that has caused a national ruckus and the suspensions of two local coaches is just the culmination of – the tragically logical progression of – a well-intentioned youth program gone haywire.

It's important to note that the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal wasn't made public until well after the Tustin coaches had already instituted their program. The Tustin coaches weren't copying the Saints; whatever they did arose organically out of their own twisted sense of values.

To start, the Red Cobras capped their roster and cherry picked the best players from Tustin, which deprived the other Tustin teams in their division from starting the season on the same footing. How would you like to be a player on one of the other Tustin teams, knowing that the league all-star team essentially had been decided before the season started and that your team had virtually no hope of being competitive?

As if Tustin's preordained super team wasn't loaded enough, the coaches went outside the league boundaries and recruited a top player from Anaheim.

Then, in the most egregious act outside the bounty program itself, the coaches allegedly fudged a player's weight. This 11-year-old "Player X" had dieted, worked out in a plastic suit and spat Skittle juice in a desperate attempt to defy the normal march of prepubescent growth that tens of thousands of years of human evolution has wrought. He actually went to the hospital at one point for chest pains.

Bad enough. But when they finally realized Player X didn't have one more gram of body mass to give to the cause, they allowed him to be weighed in pads that had been shaved and bored out. In some cases, the player had to play in these altered pads, which might put his own safety at risk, and in at least one other case he was able to change into the correct pads, which put opponents at risk because they were facing a player who was over the weight limit.

In the playoffs, Player X's teammates were told to stand around him while he changed pads so league officials or opponents wouldn't catch on to the scheme. Thus, by the end of the Tustin's 2011 season, the coaches had completely co-opted their players with this win-at-all-costs ethos.

The whole weight issue in Pop Warner also deserves some abstract analysis.

Pop Warner knows that regulating player weight is one of the most important ways to ensure safety and competitiveness. Leagues have a "weight master" to ensure players meet the prescribed weight for their age and division. (One of the great ironies of this whole debacle is that Darren Crawford, the Tustin Red Cobras head coach who was suspended on Thursday, is also the Tustin league's weight master.)

Anyway, there is an elaborate set of rules about how much a player can weigh, and it even varies week-to-week during the season. This has been reduced to a series of matrixes that look something like the periodic table of elements – but more complicated. The rules also get very specific about what types of equipment can be included in a weigh-in, when players can be weighed and when they can't, etc.

The Tustin Red Cobras violated those rules, no question, but the very existence of such an elaborate set of rules gives pause. These weight rules are in the 37-page "Weight-Master, Player Administrator & Spotter Handbook." Lets' add to the Pop Warner statutory scheme: an 18-page set of By-laws," a 65-page "Administrative Regulations" manual, a 27-page "Coaches Risk Management Handbook," and what appears to be the Bible of it all, the 115-page national "Pop Warner Administrative Manual."

And still, even following the rules, you can have a 5-year-old kid weighing as little as 35 pounds playing tackle football in something called the Tiny Mite division against 75 pounders. Thirty-five pounds? We used to have a cat bigger than that. (Pop Warner has seven divisions of tackle football, Tiny Mite, Junior Mighty Might, Midget, etc. The 2011 Tustin Red Cobras played in the Junior Pee Wee Division.)

I posit this question: If you can't regulate a way to keep a kindergartner from being clotheslined by a second-grader roughly twice his size, what is the point of such ponderous rule-making?

Maybe what this is telling us is that youth tackle football has just become a game of rules and not a game. Thus, the global question: Has an organization that now requires (at least) 262 pages of rules to administer a kids' game – and still can't keep administrators from embezzling, coaches from cheating and 10-year-old from playing for bounties – has such an organization lost its value to society?

Pop Warner football has a wonderful heritage. It was founded in 1929 to take rowdy kids – young rock-throwing vandals – off the streets of Philadelphia. Those kids were teenagers. By contrast, the current fanaticism to introduce kids to tackle football at ever earlier ages seems to have no limit. Coming soon: the Junior In Utero Division (zygotes 12 cells or fewer).

The original Pop Warner idea was that by exposing kids to adults who could teach them about sportsmanship, it would keep them from becoming thugs.

Has Pop Warner become the very thing it sought to crush?

Contact Mickadeit at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Orange County Pop Warner Can't Get Out of the News

Published: Sept. 28, 2012 Updated: 3:39 p.m.

Tustin Pop Warner charges go beyond bounties


Sometimes, to dominate the ultracompetitive world of Junior Pee Wee football, you have to change the game.

And many of the changes you can make to get to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Kissimmee, Florida, have little to do with what happens on the field.

For the Tustin Red Cobras, the 2011 Super Bowl tournament representative from the Western United States, some coaches changed, bent and broke rules regarding sign-ups and the team's roster – and encouraged the mostly 10- and 11-year-old boys to use weight loss techniques described by a professional trainer as life threatening — according to two members of the coaching staff and a parent of one of the players.

Thursday, National Pop Warner announced they will send an independent investigator to Tustin, and, until the investigation is complete, they will suspend the head coach, Darren Crawford, and president, Pat Galentine, of Tustin Pop Warner.

"They cheated in order to get to Florida," said a Red Cobras parent who did not want her name used to protect the identity of her son. "This is a powder keg of crap."

Her point of view is shared by a group of former Red Cobras who have now formed their own team in another league. The most outspoken in that group are former Red Cobras assistant coach John Zanelli and former Red Cobras equipment manager Paul Bunkers.

On Sunday, Sept. 23, the Register reported allegations that last season Tustin coaches paid cash to some players on their youth players for big hits and more cash for knocking star players on opposing teams out of games. Seven sets of Red Cobras parents and players have confirmed that coaches Darren Crawford and Richard Bowman targeted opposing players, offered cash incentives and paid several players for hard hits in games against youth teams from Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino.

Crawford and Bowman said they've never given cash to players or encouraged them to make hits on or injure opponents for money. The coaches said the allegations were made by a disgruntled parent who convinced other parents and players to lie. Zanelli and Bowman have both been suspended by Pop Warner in the past year.

But Zanelli and Bunkers (who has not been suspended) are not alone in their claims. The Register contacted more than 20 coaches, former coaches, parents, attorneys, medical experts and players to report this story. Many coaches and players repeated allegations of bounties paid to Red Cobra players for clean football plays – and plays that put kids out of games.

Earlier this year, Zanelli and Bunkers were among six parents and four players interviewed by officials from the Orange Empire Conference, which is the governing body over 28 Pop Warner organizations in Southern California. Despite the parents' and players' claims, the OEC found no evidence of a bounty program.

The OEC, however, did look at other allegations by Zanelli, Bunkers and others, and found some of them to be true.

Crawford was placed on probation for misreporting a player's weight. The OEC suspended Bowman for half a season for a physical altercation with another parent while the team was in Florida.

This week, there has been a media frenzy that has enveloped the Red Cobras program with the Today Show, Good Morning America, ESPN, CNN, the John and Ken Show on KFI Radio, and several local television news outlets have been scrambling to get quotes from the Red Cobras players and parents.

Jeoffrey Robinson, an attorney representing Crawford, told NBC, "Mr. Crawford has stated he may have made errors in judgment unrelated to a bounty program and is willing to make any amends possible to make himself a better coach. I'm hoping if nothing else that these accusations will help all of us to focus on what we say to young kids, how we try to motivate them, and what can we do to make sure they play safely themselves."

Crawford could not be reached for comment on this story. Bowman said, "No comment." Attempts to reach Steve McGinnis, the president of the OEC, were unsuccessful.


Before the 2011 season began, the Tustin organization, which includes teams for players from ages 7 to 14 in six tackle football divisions, changed its sign-up rules in an effort to build a super team, Zanelli said.

In 2011, in the Junior Pee Wee division, Tustin fielded three teams. In the past, Tustin had allowed any Junior Pee Wee player to pick any of the three coaches in the division. That's similar to how many Pop Warner leagues operate, splitting up the best players who sign up so all the teams in the division have a similar shot at winning.

But not in 2011 in Tustin. Instead of players picking coaches the coaches picked the players, and they shifted talent to the Red Cobras squad.

"They changed the rules so people couldn't end up on the team randomly," Bunkers said.

Tustin capped its Red Cobras roster at 22 players, which is also a strategic advantage. In Pop Warner, every player must play a minimum of eight offensive or defensive plays in the every game. By capping its roster, Tustin limited its number of "must play" players and maximized the playing time for more talented starters.

In Yorba Linda and Santa Margarita, for example, the Junior Pee Wee rosters had 28 or 29 players, so more "must play" players had to be on the field for more significant time.

(Many Pop Warner teams use "must play" players as wide receivers and position them where they aren't likely to be involved in the action. But because Tustin won by such lopsided scores, the "must play" Red Cobras players got a lot of playing time, and were not always stuck at wide receiver.)

One of the best players on the 2011 Tustin team does not live in Tustin. He played in Anaheim Pop Warner in 2009, but his parents asked for and received a waiver from Anaheim Pop Warner, allowing him to jump leagues.

That player, who became a star on the 2011 Tustin team, was 10 years old when the season began, so he was allowed, per Pop Warner's weight-limit rules, to weigh 105 pounds at the start of the season. A 10-year-old, 100-pound-plus player with speed is like gold in Junior Pee Wee football.

Pop Warner rules also allow "older/lighter" players to play, and these players also can be valuable on the field.

At the Junior Pee Wee level, older/lighter players are smaller (85 pounds or lighter) sixth graders who can play with bigger fifth graders (who weigh up to 105 pounds). It is the goal of every ultracompetitive Pop Warner team to fill its roster with older/lighter players. In Santa Margarita, for example, 15 of the 29 players were older/lighter. In Tustin, 11 of 22 were older/lighter.

In some cases, this rule allows seventh graders to play with fourth graders, and the Red Cobras had one of each.

The problem in Tustin was that one of the older/lighter players wasn't always as light as he needed to be.

In Zanelli's chronology filed with the OEC he referred to that 11-year-old as "Player X."

Player X's father did not return a phone call to discuss this story.

The chronology said Player X weighed more than 85 pounds on Aug. 1, 2011, the first day of football practice. He still weighed more than 85 pounds on Aug. 12, the day each player is officially certified by the league. At this point, Player X could have been immediately moved up to a bigger division, Pee Wee, where he would play with heavier kids.

But Player X was a key piece of the Red Cobra's formula to get to Florida, and the team sought – and received – a waiver from OEC that gave Player X until Aug. 27 to lose the required weight, according to Zanelli's chronology.

Many Pop Warner families are familiar with extreme weight-loss efforts by the children near the cutoff limit. Many boys in Pop Warner diet and, in some cases, take diuretics to lose weight.

Brad Davidson, owner of Stark Training in Irvine and the trainer of professional athletes like Sam Baker who was raised in Tustin and is now playing for the Atlanta Falcons and former Laker Matt Barnes, said extreme dieting for children is "crazy."

"At that age, the stress that dieting puts on the body is unbelievable," Davidson said. "You're stripping the body of electrolytes. The body becomes massively dehydrated. Strength and coordination will be affected. When you lose too many electrolytes, you can die.

"What's more important, a Pee Wee football game or your kid's health? They are putting these kids' lives in danger."

In the case of Player X, Zanelli's chronology says the 11-year-old wore a plastic suit to try to sweat off the weight. He sat in saunas. His teammates said he sucked on Skittles candy to create saliva so he could spit more often.

On Aug. 27, the day of Red Cobras' first regular season game, Player X said he was injured, did not get weighed and did not play.

Pop Warner rules allow players to remain eligible even as they gain one pound a week, up to nine pounds total, over the course of the season. So by the third game of the season, the weight requirement for Player X was 87 pounds. At each weigh-in, the player is allowed eight extra pounds for his pads. So the scale had to read 95 pounds (the boy's weight plus pads) or less for Player X to be eligible.

On Sept. 10, Player X showed up for the pre-game weigh-in as the Red Cobras prepared to play Santa Ana. Crawford and Bowman had arranged for him to wear shoulder pads with holes drilled in them and thigh pads that had been cut in half to make them lighter. Player X made the weight.

After the weigh in, the chronology says, Player X went into a bathroom so he could change into his heavier, safer pads out of sight of officials. Player X played in that day's game and the Red Cobras won 27-6.

It is unclear if Player X was ever certified by the OEC to play in games. It is clear he did not start the season at the proper weight, Zanelli said.


On Sept. 17, the morning of the Red Cobras' game against Lakewood, Player X complained of chest pains and was taken to a hospital, Zanelli's complaint said. Player X missed the game against Lakewood.

"I told his dad to play in the right weight division," Bunkers said. "This isn't worth it."

Another parent said: "I felt sorry for that kid. I talked to his mother and said, 'I can't believe you're allowing him to do this.'"

If Player X wasn't able to slip away to the bathroom without being noticed, he would play games in the illegally altered pads, Zanelli said.

By the time the playoffs rolled round, the weight limit had risen to 94 pounds (102 in pads). Player X was still at the edge of the weight limit.

Before the playoff game against Yorba Linda, Player X weighed in successfully with his illegally altered pads. After the weigh-in his teammates formed a human ring around Player X so officials couldn't see him change into his safer pads, said one parent.

In the second playoff game against Santa Margarita, it was Player X who delivered the big hit of the game that gave the opposing running back a mild concussion. It was Player X, Zanelli said, who got paid after the game.

By the time the team got to Florida, the weight rules changed. The players didn't wear pads during weigh-ins. Player X spent time in the sauna before the first game. At the first weigh-in, he was too heavy. He left the facility and again sat in a sauna, Zanelli said. When he returned, a second scale was found, and he was allowed to be weighed a second time.

This time, Player X made the weight, Zanelli said.

The Red Cobras eventually lost in the semifinals of the Super Bowl tournament to a team from Washington D.C. But they finished the season with a 12-1 record.

Bunkers said that the Red Cobras coaches had gone too far to achieve their goal.

"The goal should be for the kids to have fun," Bunkers said. "But egos get in the way. Some guys are reliving their childhoods through their kids."

Register columnist Frank Mickadeit contributed to this report.

High School Coach In Trouble

Published: Sept. 27, 2012 6:02 p.m.

Coach vulgarity complaint shines light on sports culture

Fullerton baseball player Grant Sims, 16, comes forward to discuss a taboo topic – foul language in coaching.


FULLERTON – Sixteen-year-old Grant Sims says he's never been one to complain about expletives and vulgar language he hears daily at baseball practice.

It's to be expected, he says, including from his coaches at Fullerton Union High School. But at a June baseball game, Sims said, head coach Marc Patino went too far.

During a team huddle, Patino referred to Sims with a derogatory term for gay people, and when Sims gave the coach a displeased look, Patino threatened to initiate a graphic sex act with the high school junior, according to a complaint filed with the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

The district, in an Aug. 31 letter to the Sims family, reported it took "significant disciplinary action" against Patino.

"The district does not condone or tolerate any comments or actions of any of its employees that would embarrass or demean students, staff or members of the public," Edward Atkinson, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, said in the letter.

The district would not elaborate on the punishment, citing personnel confidentiality. Patino, a full-time social science teacher at Fullerton Union High School, did not return multiple requests for comment. He remains the team's head coach.

Orange County school and athletic officials acknowledge that situations like the one Sims alleged continue to play out on sports fields across the nation, a reflection of a decades-long, less-than-successful effort to wipe out the strong and threatening language used in high school sports.

"Cussing and swearing is something you can't ever defend with a parent," said Vince Brown, athletic director at Santa Ana's Foothill High School, a coach for three decades. "But it's difficult because a lot of times the coaches are using it in the heat of the moment, and it's something that comes from either the way they were coached or are accustomed to coaching. There's a huge learning curve."

Even when officials seek to hold coaches like Patino accountable for their behavior, experts say, schools' ability to take decisive action is hampered by state laws that protect teachers' due-process rights.

As a result, officials say, schools generally don't take actions like suspension and termination, especially in instances of a single reported transgression.


Sims said his decision to report Patino to school authorities was based on a pattern of behavior that emerged in the classroom as well as on the field. (Sims also had Patino as a teacher last year.)

In the written complaint, Sims and his parents accused Patino of regularly referring to one of Sims' teammates with a derogatory term for Jewish people, and of regularly using phrases such as "You (expletive)" and "You're the biggest (expletive)."

During the June 25 team huddle, Patino said, "The only (expletive) not playing (defense) today is Grant," according to the complaint. When the teen gave his coach a displeased look, Patino said, "Don't look at me that way or I'll skull-(expletive) you," the complaint said.

"Profanity doesn't bother me; it's the terms and remarks toward people that do," said Sims, who plays centerfield and pitcher.

"My parents have always taught me to do the right thing, stand up for what I believe in, and make a difference," said Sims, a self-described devout Christian who attends Fullerton's Eastside Christian Church. "I don't want other kids going through the same thing I did, being pushed down, ridiculed, attacked, and being afraid to say anything about it."

After the June 25 game, Sims' father confronted the coach, surreptitiously tape-recording their conversation with his cell phone.

On the 12-1/2-minute recording, which was reviewed by the Register, Patino appears to explain why he used the graphic language.

"I'm just trying to get him to be cool, to be relaxed," Patino is heard telling Sean Sims.

Later in the conversation, Patino says: "I'm sorry. If he's feeling that upset, then I totally apologize."

Grant Sims said he was so disturbed by the June 25 incident that he quit the remainder of summer practice. He rejoined his team after school resumed in August.

Since that time, Patino has not apologized to Sims or talked to him about the incident, the Sims family said.

"If a student said this to a teacher, they would at least be suspended, if not expelled," Sean Sims said. "If someone said this to their boss at work, they would be fired. These things should never be said to children, and these boys are becoming young men."


High school athletic officials say that expletives and vulgar language are no more appropriate on a practice field than they are in a classroom.

But officials also acknowledge that in the heat of competition, under intense pressure, even coaches who know better will slip up. Furthermore, officials say, strong language is intrinsic to the way an entire generation of coaches communicated with players – a pervasive culture many coaches seem reluctant to give up.

"We used to think the old-school way was the only method to communicate with the athletes," said Brown, past president of the Orange County Athletic Directors Association. "I was probably one of the biggest offenders of language in my early career; now I tell my coaches, 'You can never coach the way I coached when I was young.' "

Brown said that when he began coaching the 1970s, profanity was a mainstay of high school coaching. But the callous language of the 70s and 80s gave way in the 90s to a more positive, nurturing approach, Brown said.

Today, the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section – the umbrella organization for Southern California athletics – requires coaches to sign a code of ethics, pledging that they will refrain from "the use of profanity, vulgarity and other offensive language and gestures." The organization also heavily promotes "pursuing victory with honor," a CIF motto.

"We're there to provide student athletes with the best possible role models," said Chris Corliss, who oversees health, sports and physical education programs for the Orange County Department of Education. "We ask coaches, 'Would you accept that same type of language from your student athlete?'"

As for reporting transgressions, athletics leaders agree that schools can only begin to address inappropriate language when students are willing to shine a spotlight on a problem that is rarely discussed or reported.

"At the end of the day, if this is wrong and you feel strongly about it, you've got to come forward," said Thom Simmons, a spokesman for the CIF Southern Section, based in Los Alamitos. "Otherwise, other kids will continue to be hurt by what's occurring."


School administrators who were asked to review the Sims family's complaint for the Register expressed shock and disgust at the coach's alleged language.

They noted it rose above the strong language typically overheard on a sports field, and that it appeared to be corroborated by Sean Sims' tape-recorded conversation with the coach.

But they also urged caution in jumping to conclusions, noting that only the school district has had the opportunity to interview the coach and hear his side of the story.

"I'm definitely appalled that this kind of language is going on in any school system," said Theresa Daem, a retired Laguna Beach Unified superintendent who now runs a national superintendents' association. "Not that anything would justify what he said, but there are many times when you're investigating something that you learn things that give it a bit of a different perspective."

Daem said Fullerton district officials likely were appalled at the words Patino was accused of uttering. But after investigating, even if they had wanted to remove the coach from his position, their hands would have been tied, Daem said.

First of all, Daem said, if they were to remove the coach, it could create a community backlash. More importantly, teachers have due-process rights codified in state law, she explained.

"You need to build a file; you can't just have this one instance of a verbal insult," said Daem, executive director of the Newport Beach-based National Association of School Superintendents. "You would need to take measured steps toward something as big as suspension or dismissal. As horrible as it was, there are processes they have to adhere to."

Had an employee in the private sector used racial or gay slurs or threatened someone in the workplace, even if jokingly, that employee easily might have been suspended or fired, said Ron Wenkart, an attorney for the county Department of Education.

"The framework of the law is very different in the private sector," Wenkart said. "Unless it's a unionized business, the employer has a lot more discretion to decide whether to fire someone. If they find this conduct unacceptable, they probably would fire the person."

Michael Stone of the California Teachers Association said due-process rights are intended to protect teachers from false allegations and discriminatory action by their employer. Private-sector employees have the right to immediately file a wrongful-termination lawsuit, Stone said.

Stone, a trustee for the state teachers union and an Aliso Viejo Middle School math teacher, also said school administrators and other supervisory personnel should make regular appearances in teachers' classrooms and on athletic fields, to nip inappropriate behaviors in the bud before students and parents lodge complaints. Observing teachers is the way administrators are supposed to hold them accountable, Stone said.

"Good administrators walk out onto the field and they see what's really happening," Stone said.


Toward the end of Fullerton Union High's summer season in mid July, the team's remaining schedule was abruptly canceled. District Superintendent George Giokaris confirmed the cancelation was due to a "confidential personnel matter," but declined to elaborate further.

Giokaris, however, said that in general, when an employee is accused of harassment, intimidation or making a threat, the staff member is put on paid leave so the district can investigate.

"We make a relevant determination whether the facts of the case support the allegation of threats, intimidations and harassment," Giokaris said. "Based on what we find, appropriate discipline is assigned."

Giokaris also said an audio recording created without the other party's consent could not be used to build a case against an employee.

"We cannot legally use something that is obtained illegally," Giokaris said. "It's pretty much the same legal standard as trying to prove someone committed a criminal act that would cause someone to have to go to jail or pay a fine."

Regardless of the legalities, Stone said, teachers and coaches should always use proper language – it's just common sense.

"You're representing your high school," said Stone, who spent a season coaching freshman football.

"If you play dirty, it's not just a reflection on yourself, but on the youth you're coaching."

Contact the writer: 714-796-7802 or smartindale@ocregister.com or Twitter: @MartindaleScott

OC Pop Warner Under Investigation

Published: Sept. 27, 2012 Updated: 9:16 p.m.

Youth football in Tustin under investigation


The head coach and league president who presided over the 2011 Tustin Junior Pee Wee Red Cobras football team have been suspended, effective immediately, pending an investigation by National Pop Warner into allegations of a bounty program first reported in The Orange County Register.

"In light of new information and players coming forward who did not participate in the league investigation, National Pop Warner will intervene to further investigate the alleged bounty program in Tustin Pop Warner," said Executive Director Jon Butler.

"We will assign a local designee who is not affiliated with the association to lead the investigation and will work closely with the Wescon Region and Orange Empire Conference to ensure the safety of our participants and the integrity of the Pop Warner program. We take this matter very seriously and have asked Tustin Pop Warner Head Coach Darren Crawford and Tustin President Pat Galentine to step down until this situation is finalized."

The Tustin Red Cobras, a team of mostly 10- and 11-year-old players, advanced to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in 2011. They finished the season with a 12-1 record.

A group of parents from Tustin said Crawford and then assistant coach Richard Bowman offered players cash for big hits and more cash for knocking an opponent out of playoff games against Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino last season. In one game, a running back from Santa Margarita suffered a mild concussion and had to leave the game after he was hit by a Red Cobras player. That player was paid for the hit after the game, said John Zanelli, a former assistant coach.

Crawford, Bowman and Galentine have consistently denied that any cash incentives were offered or paid. Thursday's suspensions do not include Bowman since he is no longer coaching.

The suspensions will last until the investigation is complete and a ruling is made, said Josh Pruce, Pop Warner's National director of scholastics and media relations. Pruce said he expects at least two investigators to be appointed in the next few days, and he said he expects the investigation will take "at least a few weeks."

Zanelli, who has been characterized by the now suspended coach as a disgruntled parent who convinced other parents and players to lie about the allegations, said he hopes the national investigators find enough evidence to take strong action against Tustin and against Bobby Espinosa, the Orange Empire Conference commissioner who earlier this year conducted a local investigation and found "no evidence" of a bounty program.

"They should get rid of the entire Tustin Pop Warner board and Bobby Espinosa," Zanelli said. "This is one of the worst examples I've ever seen and a failure of leadership in youth sports."

Galentine sent an email to Tustin Pop Warner board members Thursday explaining that the suspensions had been handed down.

"While it is with a heavy heart I deliver this news," Galentine wrote, "the singular focus of our Board continues to be the safety and well-being of our kids, and the continued success of TPW."

Former Tustin president Mark Gutierrez was named acting president during Galentine's absence.

Galentine ended his email by saying: "There is a group of kids in your community, players on the 2011 Jr. Pee Wee Red Cobras, 2012 Pee Wee Red Cobras, and all other Cobra Football and Cheer teams, that have been placed in the cross fire of this issue by no choice of their own. Please continue to give them all the love and support you can, and please extend your support to the players and cheerleaders of ALL OEC associations... they deserve it as well."

Over the past few months, Zanelli and six other sets of parents and players confirmed to The Register that Crawford and Bowman helped a player illegally alter his gear – making him weigh less — so he could be eligible to meet Pop Warner weight requirements. They said Bowman was involved in a physical altercation with an adult when the team was in Florida for the Super Bowl tournament.

One parent said they saw Crawford give his son cash after a big hit that knocked a Yorba Linda running back out of the game. The opposing player later returned to the game.

Crawford is in his eighth year as a Tustin coach.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pop Warner response to bounty talk? Mixed

Published: Sept. 24, 2012

Mickadeit: Pop Warner response to bounty talk? Mixed



Pop Warner youth football is at risk of fumbling away its national franchise. The reaction from its national office Monday to the Tustin Red Cobras bounty scandal seemed blasé, given the stakes, and the stakes are these: What parent wants to entrust his or her kid's safety to an organization that doesn't thoroughly and independently examine credible allegations that coaches paid players to hurt opposing players?

But National Pop Warner on Monday punted to regional officials, not demanding they look into the alleged money-for-injuries program that Keith Sharon and I wrote about on Sunday. National merely said that if new parents show up or regional officials decided to look into bounties, well, they'll be happy to have a look.

"If people bring new evidence, the (Orange Empire Conference) would be willing to reopen the investigation," said Josh Pruce, a spokesman from the national office in Pennsylvania. "Until that time, it is the O.E.C. who controls the investigation. If Wescon wants to investigate (and) then talk to us, they certainly can do that."

Given that last summer's O.E.C. investigation (headed by a guy who once embezzled from Pop Warner) talked to most of the same coaches, parents and players we did and found no bounty program existed, my confidence in the O.E.C. is not tremendously high.

Fortunately, I got a much more serious response from the director of the Wescon Region of Pop Warner, an intermediate-level body that regulates Pop Warner in the Southwestern U.S.

"If that is the position of the National Office, I will be seeking a special allocation for investigative services to do an independent inquiry of this matter," Wescon region director Mel Rapozo wrote me in an email Monday. "I agree that this warrants National intervention. But please know that the Wescon Region will not wait. We will move forward to look into this matter."

Well, good for Mel Rapozo.

Keith and I are confident our sources were telling the truth. (And in an unexpected corroboration of our original sources, a sixth 2011 Tustin Red Cobras parent came forward Sunday to say her son confirmed there was a bounty program.) But I don't expect Pop Warner to simply adopt our investigation and mete out sanctions. I do expect it would reopen its own "investigation" and bring in people with no agenda, no local baggage, to conduct it.

Pop Warner talks a great game, at both the national and O.C. level. On the O.E.C. web site, there's an 18-page set of By-laws," a 65-page "Administrative Regulations" manual and a 27-page "Coaches Risk Management Handbook." They are full of discussion of sportsmanship and safety.

Let's talk about safety. As our story said, one of the Santa Margarita running backs targeted by the Red Cobras was hit in a helmet-to-helmet tackle in the waning minutes of a long-decided game last November, and a bounty was paid. The player had to be helped off the field, suffered a concussion and had lingering headaches, his father told us.

That same weekend, a player in another O.E.C. Pop Warner game in Orange County broke his neck making a tackle. Out of that injury and others, Pop Warner announced a new policy last summer. Full contact would be limited at practices. No more full-speed, head-on tackling or blocking drills. The national website even has a "Pop Warner Concussion Policy" that details what coaches must do in the case of a concussion.

In a Daily Pilot story on the new policy in June, an O.E.C. commissioner, Robert T. "Bobby" Espinosa, was quoted saying, "We keep praying for him," referring to the player who broke his neck. Weeks later, it was Espinosa who headed the O.E.C. investigation that said no Tustin bounty system was in place and took no action.

Years ago I went down the rabbit hole of Pop Warner for a series of columns and found a clubby collection of coaches and administrators, many who have known each other for years and have formed grudges and alliances that no newspaper could hope to sort out or correct. As we've seen from Espinoza's continued reign, even legal action doesn't keep Pop Warner from plugging along in its own insular world.

The O.E.C. has a regular meeting of its board at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Brookhurst Community Center, 2271 W. Crescent Ave., Anaheim. It will be interesting to see whether any parents attend and whether the O.E.C. has any stomach to clean up its own mess.

Pop Warner says it has 425,000 kids involved in youth football in 42 states. There are rival youth football organizations it competes with for young gridders, not to mention rival youth sports of all kinds. This story is getting national attention – all of the major networks contacted us – and national Pop Warner has a lot to lose if it blows this off.

Keith Sharon contributed to this report.

Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More on the Bounties in OC Pop Warner


The 2011 Tustin Red Cobras, one of America's elite youth football teams, put bounties on the heads of opposing players. This is what a former coach and three players emphatically told us. They were specific about names, places and statements the top coaches made. One parent told us his son got cash for a hard hit.

Three other Red Cobras coaches said just as emphatically there was no bounty program. To believe these three coaches, you also have to believe that five people made up a fantastical story out of whole cloth because they were "disgruntled." Perhaps the back story will help you sort it out.

Last spring, I heard a rumor about excessive violence being encouraged by coaches for the Red Cobras, which a few months earlier had gone to the Pop Warner championship tourney in Florida. On Mother's Day, I met three men at a Tustin restaurant and they laid out a story that, if true, sets a new low for win-at-all-costs mentality in youth sports.

Two were fathers who had heard about the bounties from their sons after the season. The third man, John Zanelli, said he had firsthand knowledge because he was a Red Cobras assistant coach. The problem was, none of them wanted to go on the record or allow their sons to. I told them we wouldn't publish otherwise.

Zanelli said he'd think about going on the record. I told him that while he was doing so, it might be helpful if he committed to paper a chronology of events. He did, and while I didn't see it for several months, he circulated it among some Pop Warner parents. From there it found its way to the national Pop Warner office in Pennsylvania. Zanelli's chronology is 6½ pages long, single-spaced. A good portion of it deals with grievances other than the bounties.

The chronology in hand, national Pop Warner asked Orange Empire Conference officials to look into it. During this investigation six parents and four players told an O.E.C. commissioner, Robert T. "Bobby" Espinosa, and one other official about the bounties. Espinosa didn't believe them.

Zanelli told me that Espinosa told him that he didn't believe a bounty program existed because two of the players who allegedly got money wouldn't talk to him.

Those players didn't talk to Espinosa, Zanelli said, because of disagreements between their respective parents about whether their sons should. Instead, in two cases, the players were each represented before Espinosa by one parent. Zanelli heard one of those two parents tell Espinosa directly that his son actually received cash for a hard hit. But this statement, and the statements of four other players with firsthand knowledge (and Zanelli), apparently were not enough to convince Espinosa there had been a bounty program.

This greatly upset Zanelli and some of the Red Cobras parents who had talked to Espinosa. Some felt they'd put their sons at risk by telling the truth – and now they were not being believed. Zanelli thinks that Espinosa was fearful of even acknowledging there was a bounty program because it would be devastating for Pop Warner, especially in light of the national outrage over the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Meanwhile, other internal Tustin Pop Warner politics were creating more bad blood in town. The Tustin league repeatedly blocked Zanelli and other dissident Red Cobras parents from forming their own team, which they wanted to do because they were so disgusted with the bounty program and other activities on the Red Cobras.

During all this nastiness, last spring, Zanelli encountered one of the Tustin Pop Warner officials at a Little League field. There is a dispute about who said and did what to whom, but it resulted in Zanelli being suspended from Pop Warner.

Against this backdrop, Zanelli two weeks ago finally agreed to tell his story on the record. What seemed to make the difference now was that Zanelli and the like-minded parents had run out of options for getting some redress of their grievances through Pop Warner.

When head coach Darrren Crawford and then-defensive coordinator Richard Bowman claim Zanelli and the parents are making up the bounty program because they are disgruntled, this is what they are referring to: Zanelli was suspended, and he and the dissident parents initially didn't get their way when they tried to form their own team.

Certainly, this might have contributed to finally making them willing to talk to us or have their sons sign a statement. But would it compel them to conspire among themselves to fabricate such a wild tale in the first place – and enlist their kids? Five sets of parents?

Three of the players agreed to talk to us after we assured them they wouldn't be named, which is our policy when dealing with minors who may suffer harassment if they are identified as witnesses. I met with Zanelli and one other parent about three weeks ago. Zanelli spoke for attribution this time, and repeated what he told me in May.

I then scheduled interviews with three players.

As I was relating this development to my editor a couple of weeks ago, reporter Keith Sharon overheard. Until recently, Keith was a sports editor. Turns out, he knew one of the Santa Margarita players who had been targeted. He offered to contact the players' parents. With Keith's knowledge and the story getting bigger, my editor and I decided it would be a good idea for Keith to work on it with me.

Zanelli had supplied me with signed statements by two players detailing the existence of a program. (Those statements had also been given to Pop Warner.) But I wanted to look players in the eye and have them tell me in their own words what they saw and heard.

This they did. Keith and I met them at the Tustin restaurant at 2 p.m. last Sunday.

All three players, who are now 11 or 12, said they clearly remember when they first heard about the bounty program from Crawford. Two said they heard him introduce it at a practice; the other player said he first heard Crawford talk about it at a film session. As for actual payments, one player said, "I saw the (other) coaches give Coach Crawford the money and he gave it to (the player)." They all said they heard about the program multiple times from Crawford and Bowman.

We talked for more than an hour. The players' fathers didn't interrupt or try to put words in their mouths. Then, on Friday, the father of a fourth player told Keith that his son actually received cash.
Keith also tracked down parents of kids allegedly targeted in the bounty program. Reggie Scales' reaction was, "How the hell are you going to allow this in Pop Warner?" It's ridiculous. It infuriates me. My son could have been damaged for life."

It fell to me to contact the accused coaches.

"Absolutely not, that is ridiculous," Crawford said when I asked whether there had been a bounty program. "I've been cleared in three investigations. It's amazing what disgruntled parents will put their kids through."

He told me that on Monday. On Friday, after we'd talked to several more parents and officials and word was getting around town that we were going to publish a story, Crawford called Keith. This time, he said his memory of events was hazy but some opposing players had been targeted and that he might have given one of his players money, but that the targeting and the money were not related and thus did not amount to a bounty program.

As for Bowman, at first he told me, "I don't even know what you are talking about." Then he said Zanelli made up the allegations in retribution for being suspended himself.
"So there was no bounty program?" I asked Bowman.

"Never, dude, never," he said.

"So the three players we talked to are lying?"

"Absolutely lying," he said. "If those kids are saying money was paid, they are absolutely lying. ... There's no way we'd pay to hurt anybody."

As to the "three investigations" that Crawford said cleared him, the first two were conducted by Tustin's own board or its representative and, according to Zanelli, did not involve the bounty program. Espinosa and the O.E.C. conducted the only Pop Warner probe into the bounties we've been able to find.

I called Espinosa. He said he interviewed several Tustin players and parents but found "no evidence" of a bounty program. Keith and I, remember, had just interviewed three of the four players Espinosa talked to, all of whom unequivocally told us there had been a bounty program and that they had told that to Espinosa.

When I asked Espinosa what those players had told him, he said, "You know what? I'm going to end this conversation now," and he hung up.

Espinosa and I had chatted some years ago after he was charged with embezzling $50,000 from the Fullerton Pop Warner league in 2002 and 2003. Espinosa pleaded no contest and was ordered to pay restitution of $16,875. He did so, and court records show that what had been a felony was reduced to a misdemeanor and, finally, in 2010, to an expungement.

Pop Warner must have been impressed. It elevated him to a commissioner.

Reporter Keith Sharon contributed to this article.
Contact Mickadeit at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Bounties in Orange County Pop Warner



Four months before the world heard about the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, two Pop Warner football coaches in Tustin began offering cash to their 10- and 11-year-old players for making big hits and knocking opponents out of games, according to an assistant coach, a parent, interviews with players and signed statements by two players.

Tustin Red Cobras head coach Darren Crawford and assistant coach Richard Bowman, whose powerhouse squad went undefeated during the 2011 regular season, told their team to target specific players on the youth football teams from Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino, said then-assistant coach John Zanelli and three players interviewed by the Register.

All the other coaches and Tustin Pop Warner league officials deny a bounty program took place. Crawford said they did target opposing players but never told their team to injure them and never offered any payment for hitting or injuring them.

One of the targeted players, an 11-year-old running back from the Santa Margarita Stallions, suffered a concussion after he was hit by a Red Cobras player in the Pop Warner Orange Bowl last November.

The player who delivered the hit was paid by Crawford after the game, Zanelli said.

The Register is not naming any of the players because of their ages.

Tustin league president Pat Galentine, who was an assistant coach for the 2011 Red Cobras, emphatically denied any mention of money by Crawford or Bowman.

"At no time was a bounty program ever discussed or was there an exchange of money for anything," Galentine said.

However, the parent of one of the Red Cobras players said money was paid to his son after the playoff game against Yorba Linda.

"My son said he had won the prize," said the father, whose name is not being used to protect the identity of his son. "He had a good, clean hit. The kids voted his play as the play of the game. He showed me one $20 bill. He said the coaches, plural, gave it to him."

That parent said he had told Galentine about his son receiving money in a phone call Friday morning. But when reached by The Register, Galentine said he was having difficulty with his phone and didn't hear what the parent said.

Reached by phone this week, Crawford and Bowman denied the existence of a bounty program. Crawford, still a football coach in the Tustin Pop Warner program, said the parents who made the allegations are "disgruntled" and that they forced their children to lie. Bowman, who is taking a year off from coaching, said the parents and players are lying.

"It's amazing what disgruntled parents will put their kids through," Crawford said.

Late Friday, Crawford said he is having trouble remembering whether he gave any player money after the Yorba Linda game. He said, "Maybe I did give him money to go to the snack bar." But he was sure he didn't give any money as a part of a bounty program.

Crawford said he knows for sure he did not give any player money after the Santa Margarita or San Bernardino games.

Officials from the Orange Empire Conference, which oversees Pop Warner football in this region, investigated the allegations, interviewing coaches, parents and players from the Red Cobras and decided not to hand out any punishments or sanctions.

O.E.C. commissioner Robert T. "Bobby" Espinosa said he found "no evidence" of a bounty program after hearing and reading statements from six parents and four players that alleged Crawford and Bowman offered between $20 and $50 during three playoff games at the end of the 2011 Junior Pee Wee football season.

Two players who allegedly took money from the coaches did not agree to be interviewed by the O.E.C. The father of one of those players, the same father who told The Register his son had been paid, was among the parents interviewed by Espinosa. Zanelli said he was in the room when that father told Espinosa his son had been paid.

Some parents of the targeted players are outraged.

Tara Yocam, the mother of a targeted Santa Margarita player, said, "The (Tustin) coaches' behavior is appalling. I wouldn't allow my son to play for those Neanderthals. They're low-lifes. I'm embarrassed for them. It's immature parenting, trying to win at all cost. Where is the sense of right and wrong? It shows a complete lack of integrity."

Bitterness, accusations and bad blood are not uncommon in Pop Warner football, or other youth sports. In Tustin, both Bowman and Zanelli (who are on opposite sides of the bounty allegations) acknowledge each of them was suspended by their league for confrontations they've had with other parents.

Allegations that coaches paid children to knock others out of the game make this case unique.

An official at Pop Warner's national office in Pennsylvania said he was made aware of the Tustin allegations, but because the incidents occurred at Southern California games, it was the O.E.C.,'s responsibility to conduct a hearing and hand out punishment if necessary.

Josh Pruce, Pop Warner's national director of scholastics and media relations, said he can't remember a bounty scandal ever happening in their program.

"There shouldn't be that issue in Pop Warner football," Pruce said. "There is no place for it. The kids are out there to learn football. There is no place for a bounty system."

Zanelli, three players and two parents met with The Register last Sunday and offered detailed descriptions of the Red Cobras' bounty program.

They said Crawford was stung by his team's loss to Saddleback Valley in the 2010 Pop Warner Orange Bowl, and was determined to win the Pop Warner Orange Bowl in the 2011 season, advance through the playoffs and win the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida.

Zanelli and two of the players said the first mention of money came during a team huddle near the end of football practice on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011.

When Crawford first mentioned he would pay money for big hits and knocking opponents out of games, many of the Tustin Red Cobras shouted excitedly, energized by the prospect of earning cash, the players said.

"We were like, 'OK! We're going to go hit them! Wow!'" one player said. A second player said, "When we were after practice, getting our gear off, we were guessing who was going to get the money."

That week the Red Cobras were preparing for their second playoff game of 2011. They would be facing a good team from Yorba Linda. During that week's practice, Crawford told the players to target particular players on the Yorba Linda team.

"Crawford was saying, basically, they were going to give kids cash for the biggest hits in the game, and Bowman said if they hit certain players, they would get more money," Zanelli said. "One was No. 42, and there were a couple of others as well."

"As the practices went on that week, Bowman in particular would reiterate (the bounty program) to the kids time and again," Zanelli said.

During an Oct. 27 film session at Crawford's house, Crawford explained how the winners of the cash would be determined, three players said. Crawford told the team that they could all vote, and the player with the most votes would get money. Crawford told them the most money could be won if the opponents' best player had to leave the game, they said.

Galentine, who said he attended every film session, said the coaches made no mention of money or bounties.

On game day, Oct. 29, the Red Cobras were going through their pre-game tackling drills. If a player executed a good warm-up hit, Bowman would yell, "'That will get you money,'" a player said.
After the game, which the Red Cobras won 28-6, Zanelli and the players said Crawford gathered the team on the sideline and asked for a show of hands to vote for the best and second-best hits of the game.

Then Crawford asked the assistant coaches to pitch in to pay the players who won. Zanelli said he and another assistant coach did not contribute to the bounty fund.

"It wasn't right," Zanelli said.

Zanelli and one of the players said they saw Crawford, who was standing near the Tustin sideline after the conclusion of the Yorba Linda game, give cash to the player who got the most votes.

The players said they were caught up in the competitive spirit and didn't consider whether it was right or wrong to accept money for great hits or even hurting an opposing player. One player said: "I was so excited, I didn't think that much about it."

The next week, before the playoff game against Santa Margarita, the Tustin coaches targeted at least three opposing players, Zanelli and the players said. At the Oct. 31 practice, the numbers of the Santa Margarita targets were taped to a Tustin tackling sled.

"It was a matter of knocking them out of the game," one of the players said. "Now that I look back, I know it was wrong."

The players said there was now so much talk among the Red Cobras about the money that Crawford told them, "Don't go bragging about this to anybody."

On Nov. 4, the Red Cobras played Santa Margarita in the Pop Warner Orange Bowl at Laguna Hills High School. The winner would be one victory away from qualifying to go to Florida.

In the days leading up to the game, Zanelli said he told Crawford he didn't think the bounty program was a good idea. He said Crawford told him, "I hear you. I'll talk to Rich (Bowman)." After that, Zanelli said, Bowman was more subdued during practice drills.

Still, Zanelli and the players said, several Santa Margarita players were targeted, including the quarterback and the running backs. And on game day, during pre-game warm-ups, Bowman tried to get the players fired up by yelling, "Do you want that money?"

Tustin had a 32-6 lead in the fourth quarter, but some of its best players were still in the game. On an off-tackle play, a Santa Margarita running back and a Tustin defender collided. It was so violent, Zanelli recalled, "There was a gasp from the crowd."

A videotape of the game shows a helmet-to-helmet collision and the 11-year-old Santa Margarita player goes down. The stadium announcer says, "A big hit" with emphasis on big. The Santa Margarita player is seen lying on the ground. The Tustin player who made the hit tries to help him up, but the Santa Margarita player wobbles and falls again.

According to witnesses and participants, a doctor ran onto the field along with Santa Margarita coaches, and the game was delayed several minutes until the player was helped off the field.
Reggie Scales, the father of the injured player, was one of the coaches who went on the field to help. Scales said the doctor diagnosed his son with a mild concussion, and the boy did not return to the game. Scales said his son had headaches for more than a month after the hit.

"This kid speared him. Hit him right in the head," Scales said. "It was a helmet-to-helmet hit."
After the game, the Tustin players didn't vote for the best hit. As coaches and kids walked to the postgame awards ceremony, Zanelli said he saw Crawford give money directly to the player who made the game's big hit. Another player said he was told by Crawford that he also would be receiving money for a big hit, but the coach never gave him the money.

Tustin now had to beat a San Bernardino team in the Wescon Regional Finals to determine the Junior Pee Wee champion for the western United States and the right to go to Florida. The bounty program became "more subdued, covert," in the week leading up to that game, Zanelli said.

Zanelli and some players said that the talk of money was only between Crawford, Bowman and a few of the star players on the team. "They started concealing the program," Zanelli said.

On Nov. 11, Tustin beat San Bernardino 34-0. Zanelli and the players interviewed said they didn't know whether money was handed out after that game, but Zanelli said Crawford told the coaches there would be no such program in Florida.

On Dec. 4, the Tustin Red Cobras beat the Worchester (Mass.) Vikings 40-6. Then, in the semifinal game on Dec. 7, the Red Cobras were beaten by the Beacon House (Washington, D.C.) Falcons 12-8. Tustin's season was over.
In the aftermath, Zanelli and six other parents from the Tustin team left Pop Warner and, with parents of 15 other boys, formed a team that now plays in a rival league. But not without a fight. The Tustin board wouldn't allow Zanelli's new team to play under the Tustin umbrella.

Jeff Wright, a Tustin board member, said he believes Zanelli, parents and players made up the story of the bounty program to use as leverage in an effort to force the league to allow them to form their own team.

Zanelli also took to the league allegations about the coaches falsifying the weights of the players (players were required to weigh just under 100 pounds at the end of the season) and the coaches fighting during their trip to Florida.

The league investigated and agreed with some of Zanelli's allegations and suspended Bowman for half a season and put Crawford on probation.

For almost six months of haggling between the league and Zanelli, "He never mentioned the bounty," Wright said.

Zanelli acknowledged that initially he kept quiet about the bounties. He said he felt bad that he, as an assistant coach, hadn't done more to stop it. And he had another motivation for staying silent for as long as he did.

"I was concerned the bounty would bring down the entire Tustin organization," Zanelli said.

Contact the writer: ksharon@ocregister.com