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Ripon Christian out for postseason
San Joaquin County Court upholds 2-year ban levied by SJS
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Brothers Grant (25) and Alex Sonke (53) rush Sacramento quarterback Naaman Branyan during a non-league Aug. 27 at Ripon Christian. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

Ripon Christian has been eliminated from the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs.

A San Joaquin County Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the SJS on Thursday, upholding a two-year postseason ban against Ripon Christian. The program is being punished because of its involvement in club football contests last spring when full-contact sports were not allowed under coronavirus protocols ordered by the state’s public health department.

“We were practicing this week still hopeful to get in,” Ripon Christian coach Phil Grams said. “It didn’t go our way. We did our best to honor them tonight and now we’re done (for the season).”

The Knights finished with a 7-3 record and would have likely been a top-two seed in the SJS Division VII playoffs, which were originally set to begin tonight but pushed back a week because Thursday’s hearing.

Capital Christian, Ripon Christian and Stone Ridge Christian (Merced) were all sanctioned by the SJS back on July 29, and each have since sought to fight their bans in court. The Section contends that the three schools participated in non-sanctioned interscholastic competition during a time when only non-contact sports such as cross country and swimming were allowed by the California Interscholastic Federation.

“I can speak for our school and say that no (CIF) bylaws were broken, and it’s a shame that it’s been take out on our group of seniors,” Grams said.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled against Capital Christian on Monday, removing the Cougars from the SJS Division III playoffs. The Section had revealed first-round pairings for five of its seven divisions the day before, opting to delay Divisions III and VII brackets until the courts’ preliminary rulings.

Both Capital Christian and Ripon Christian had a glimmer of hope when the courts granted them a temporary restraining order against the SJS in the past two weeks, momentarily preventing the Section from enforcing the playoff ban.

“That was the best strategy for us to get in this year,” Grams said. “When (the SJS) delayed the playoffs it put the courts in a rough position and made them pull the TROs. It’s not just us being delayed, there are other teams delayed as well.”

In the spring, Grams spearheaded a league called California Association of Private Sports as its president and doubled as the director for Knights Outdoor Fitness & Skillz Academy. There were 14 teams from five different counties established.

Although Knights Outdoor Fitness used the same mascot as Ripon Christian’s as well as school facilities for practices and games, Grams has said that the club operated as a separate entity.  He noted that only about 60% of the athletes on the Knights Outdoor Fitness roster are Ripon Christian students, while the rest came from multiple schools. Additionally, the club purchased its own equipment and leased

Ripon Christian facilities.

“It doesn’t get any more ‘club’ than Knights Outdoor Fitness,” Grams said.

He believes that CAPS and the COVID-19 protocols the league enacted for games and practices helped pave the way for CIF to begin competition for full-contact and indoor sports amid the pandemic.

While the 2021 season has come to a close for RC’s football team, Grams and the rest of the school’s administration hope the team can be eligible for the 2022 playoffs. The Knights are still banned for another season and under probation by the Section.

“It is what it is right now,” Grams said. “We lost this battle and it’s a bad deal for our seniors. We’ll see what lies ahead and what the next step in the fight is. Ripon Christian isn’t done fighting for kids.”