The Serra football program has had its two-year playoff ban cut in half as the result of mediation.
Paul Scearce/Special to Prep2Prep

Serra football playoff ban reduced to one year following mediation

September 15, 2015

The playoff ban on Serra High-San Mateo football has been reduced to one year (from its original two) via mediation between Serra and the Central Coast Section, according to a release from the section issued late Tuesday afternoon.

Here is the statement from CCS:

"The Central Coast Section (CCS) of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and the Junipero Serra High School administration are happy to announce that they have reached a

resolution to the dispute regarding Serra’s forfeiture of a CCS Consolation football playoff game last year. The penalty for the football program is fixed at one year, and the parties have agreed on an approach whereby probationary status for all other sports will be lifted by October, 2015. Serra’s school-wide athletics program is now considered to “in good standing.” Both sides have agreed to move forward in the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, in order to achieve their common goal of supporting the best values and outcomes of high school athletic competition."

Said Serra attorney John Christian of the development when contacted late Tuesday afternoon: "I'm pleased with the outcome. Serra is glad to get this behind them. I'm pleased the parties came to a resolution."

Outgoing CCS commissioner Nancy Lazenby Blaser and her successor Duane Morgan were in a meeting late Tuesday afternoon and were not immediately available for comment.

Nobody from CCS or Serra was likely to comment anyway, said Serra public information officer Antonio Ehlers, who said both sides were bound by the mediation agreement not to comment on the outcome.

That did not include fans of the teams. Watching practice from the stands Tuesday at Serra was Pedro Membreno, the father of Padres' senior safety Jaylyn Membreno.

"I have mixed emotions," Pedro said. "I wish they had wiped it away totally. The kids didn't do anything wrong and they're the ones being punished. Then they got rid of the consolation games after the playoffs. If they believed in them so much then should have kept them."

The development brings to an end a nine-month saga that began Dec. 5 when Serra coach Patrick Walsh, with the support of the Serra administration, chose to forfeit a consolation playoff game at Milpitas the day of the game. Walsh cited fear of injury to his depleted team, thinned by not only late-season injuries but players choosing not to participate in the consolation contests that some regarded as meaningless.

Milpitas High and CCS were not pleased. Lazenby Blaser hit Serra with an array of penalties including a two-yer playoff ban in football, probation for the football program and the athletic department for the rest of last school and the 2015-2016 season and ruled that Serra must reimburse parties it injured monetarily to the tune of about $6,000 for lost concessions, game officials, etc.

Serra appealed the ruling, arguing the consolation games were a disaster – discontinued after the 2014-2015 season and never held anywhere in the U.S. for football except the CCS as far as anyone knows. Consolation games that were played such as Serra vs. Palma and Valley Christian vs. Los Gatos were not treated like actual games, with coaches agreeing in some cases to kick out of bounds or not rush the passer. Some athletes at Serra and Valley Christian reportedly chose to leave their football teams to move on to winter sports instead of playing the consolation contests or to simply sit at home and contemplate their college careers, such as big Serra lineman Jack Dreyer (now on scholarship at Stanford).

Lazenby Blaser strongly disagreed with Serra's actions, saying: "Serra was critical of me, the board of managers and Milpitas High School. Milpitas felt disrespected, dishonored and cheated. The Serra administration decided to violate the bylaws of the CCS. They showed no remorse, no apology for deliberately violating the rules."

Explained Walsh: “The decision to recommend a forfeit was rooted in my concern for the safety of our students. Their health and safety will always come first in all of my decisions.”

The Padres lost appeals to CCS during marathon section meetings in San Jose where both sides’ arguments were heard, as well as the thoughts of athletic directors and school officials around the section. Attorneys for both sides were present. Santa Clara Valley Athletic League commissioner Tony Nunes at one point said CCS schools should stop scheduling Serra for non-league games.

Finally the matter went to mediation and that process ground on for months as well, finally being resolved this week and announced today.

Serra has developed into a football power under Walsh, the former De La Salle star who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Walsh told Prep2Prep in December he was mortified on the first play of the Padres’ initial consolation game against Palma when star sophomore Leki Nunn was accidentally horse-collared by a Chieftain player and roughly dragged to the ground.

His late decision to pull out of the Milpitas game, he said, was the function of a week-long dilemma about what do do, which included calls to Milpitas coach Kelly King, as well as Walsh seeking the input of some of his coaching peers around the CCS and his mentor and former De La Salle coach, Bob Ladouceur, now an assistant to DLS coach Justin Alumbaugh. Serra coincidentally hosts De La Salle at 7 p.m. tonight.

Serra, the all-boys’ peninsula school of nearly 1,000 students, claims Lynn Swann, Barry Bonds and Tom Brady as alumni and has won two consecutive WCAL football co-titles and the CCS Open Division title in 2013.

But after Serra was upset 28-0 by Los Gatos in last season’s CCS Open first-round game, the Padres weren't so thrilled about continuing the post-season. They grudgingly muddled through the game with Palma (winning 28-14), setting the stage for Walsh's controversial decision the following week. Walsh said he awoke suddenly in the middle of the night on game day and determined he couldn’t risk the health of his remaining players in a meaningless game. He spoke to his administration that morning and got its backing.

The CCS argued that Serra had voluntarily chosen to enter the playoffs and knew the consolation bracket was part of the deal, had been warned (along with other playoff participants) not pull out, and that the consolation games were approved by the CCS board of managers.

The controversy has endured for the better part of a year now, has been heavily reported in the media, both print and electronic, and commented on in prep football message boards with fans split roughly down the middle. The saga has played out at roughly the the same time as the New England Patriots' so-called "deflate-gate" controversy involving Serra grad Brady, in which Brady's four-game suspension for supposedly taking part in a scheme to have footballs under-inflated for the AFC title game has been dashed by the court.

Serra, now only ineligible for this year’s post-season, again has a strong team and is expected to vie for a third consecutive league title. But winning record or no, Nov. 14 of this year will still be the end of the Padres’ season due to the one-year playoff ban that remains.

So the matter is settled, but the debate will probably continue for some time.

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