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Club football games canceled after schools receive 'threatening' letter from CIF
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Football coach Michael Dotinga watches players run through the shuttle drill at Ripon Christian during summer conditioning in June. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

The Knights Outdoor Fitness & Skillz Academy football club called off its season-opening contest a minute before it was ready to kick off last Friday.

Team director Phil Grams, who doubles as league president for California Association of Private Sports, said three teams did not play because of  what he called a “threatening and very confusing letter” sent by two Section offices within the California Interscholastic Federation. The Modesto Renegades and Raider Athletic also decided to halt their games. Two clubs affected by cancellations from their opponents wound up playing each other.

The Sac-Joaquin and North Coast Sections delivered warnings to schools they believe to be in violation of CIF bylaws and state health guidelines.  Although CAPS teams derive from prep programs, Grams contends they are operating as clubs independent from their schools and CIF. 

Grams is also in his first year as Ripon Christian head coach. Knights Outdoor Fitness leases Ripon Christian's facilities for practices and games, and Grams added that all equipment used has been purchased by the club.

There was 1 minute, 9  seconds left in the pregame clock when Knights Outdoor Fitness canceled its 16-under game against team visiting from Sonoma County.

“I got a call from the RCS (Ripon Christian Schools) board asking me to postpone the game,” Grams said. “I could have gone forward with the game because we have a facility-use agreement. Even though (Knights Outdoor Fitness) is a separate entity, I do have a relationship there (with RCS) and it put me in a very tough position.

“The kids were devastated,” he added. “They all said they want me to keep fighting for their right to play.”

Michael Garrison, Commissioner for the SJS, sent a letter addressed to the principals of member schools that could be “subject to CIF Article 22 sanctions including but not limited to fines, suspension, or dismissal from membership.”

The CIF delivered a similar memo to all members last month when two private schools in Orange County played a non-sanctioned full-contact game. 

In October, Weston Ranch's boys basketball team and several others from the SJS took part in the Border League tournament in Arizona but did so as club teams. The CIF did not threaten to punish any schools, but the out-of-state tournament took place before the California Department of Public Health released its current guidelines for youth and high school sports in mid-December. 

Garrison's letter states, “such competition is a violation of the current orders of the Office of the Governor, the guidance of the California Department of Public Health, and the bylaws of the State CIF and CIF-SJS.”

The confusion stems from the reference to Article 22, which in the SJS constitution is summary of gymnastics rules. CIF's Article 2-22 (Membership/Conditions of Membership) was likely the intended reference. 

“We were very confused,” Grams said. “They were stating a bylaw that had nothing to do with football.”

Still, Grams said CAPS is not in violation of any CIF bylaws, as its clubs are not affiliated with any member schools. And although the league is going against state guidelines, they are viewed more as suggestions than mandates. 

“We feel like all our clubs are in compliance with CIF bylaws,” Grams said. “We're established as separate entities. I've talked to other people in CIF and no one can tell us a specific bylaw we are breaking, just that we're in danger of facing sanctions.”

The CAPS season is scheduled to end on March 20. The league consists of 14 clubs from five counties in Northern California. There is room in the schedule for teams to make up canceled games. Teams were originally penciled in for six games over seven weeks. The hope was for “bowl games” to be held in Week 7, but ultimately the extra week was put in place to serve as a buffer in case of cancellations. 

Grams is confident the season can continue as planned.

“I visited two of the games on Saturday and everyone did a good job of COVID protocols,” Grams said. “There was some good competition, and the kids showed great spirit and joy.”