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, 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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Junior All American Sister Chapter Irvine Chargers in the News

Irvine Chargers shine in classroom, too
League president Mike Filia stresses academics.

By TIM BURT / The Orange County Register

Irvine Charger football players are not only doing well on the field, but in the classroom.

League president Mike Filia went to visit two of the teams, the Clinic Blue and Future League squads last week, presenting patches for jerseys and stickers for helmets to those players who are scholar athletes.

Irvine Chargers president Mike Filia talks to the 9-10 Clinic Blue team about the importance of grades.

Filia planned to meet with all the teams, one week before the start of the season before practices at Heritage Park.

Most of the Irvine Chargers teams open up on Saturday at Irvine Stadium with the first game starting at 8 a.m. and the last one at 7 p.m.

"This is a great program that Junior All-American has because it gets the kids used to what they're going to have to go up against in high school," Filia said. "Right now, you are given an opportunity to play Irvine Charger football because your mom and dad paid for it."

But if athletes don't keep up their grades in high school, they don't get to continue to play sports, he pointed out.

Filia said he has challenged former players, some who are in high school, to improve their grades, and it paid off.

"I know this program works and there is a benefit to the kids," Filia said.

Filia keeps track of players on the seventh-eighth grade level through progress reports.

Coaches in the league also talk of the importance of grades.

"I have seen kids improve their grades because of the influence of a coach and we have a lot of coaches who went to college," Filia said.

Filia said he reads almost 300 report cards every year.

"I want to know them not only as a player but as a citizen in the classroom," said Filia, now in his ninth year as president.

About 90 to 95 percent of the players qualified for the stickers.

"We like them to have at least a 2.0 GPA," Filia said. "Kids in this football program always have better grades in the fall vs. any other time because with football, the kids have a program. The kids go home from school, do their homework, attend practice, go home to eat and go to bed. "