High School Sports

SLO High principal plots last-ditch effort to save forfeited boys soccer season

SLO High principal Leslie O'Connor, pictured here in 2016, coached the girl’s soccer team to the state title game during the 2015-16 season. 1-21-16 David Middlecamp
SLO High principal Leslie O'Connor, pictured here in 2016, coached the girl’s soccer team to the state title game during the 2015-16 season. 1-21-16 David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It’s a long shot, but San Luis Obispo High School principal Leslie O’Connor and the school district’s legal team were still working Saturday to save its boys soccer team’s season.

SLO High was forced to forfeit 10 games and its league championship after a school investigation found that four players participated in 11-on-11 soccer games in a men’s league in Paso Robles during the season, a violation of CIF-Southern Section rules. SLO High petitioned the other seven area athletic directors in an emergency meeting Thursday to allow the team to participate in the playoffs next week despite the forfeits, but that petition was denied, seemingly ending the Tigers’ season.

CIF-Southern Section assistant commissioner Thom Simmons said Friday the vote marked the end of the road, but O’Connor believes his team still has a chance to make it as an at-large team due to the circumstances of how the violation was reported.

According to emails obtained by The Tribune, photos of a SLO High player participating in the men’s league game last month were sent Feb. 1 by Paso Robles High School boys soccer head coach Omar McPherson to the school’s athletic director, Anthony Morales, who then sent it to Arroyo Grande High School athletic director Stephen Field. More than a week passed from the time the photos were taken to when SLO High received notification from Field, during which time SLO High played and won two games.

SLO High contends that if the Paso Robles administration had sent SLO High the photos the same day they were received, instead of sending them to Arroyo Grande on Feb. 7, the SLO High athletic department would have suspended the players, allowing them to keep the two wins on their record. With those two wins, SLO High’s season record would be over the .500 mark (12-10 overall), making the top-ranked team eligible for an at-large berth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.

O’Connor made this case in an email to principals and athletic directors of the PAC 8 schools.

“San Luis Obispo is requesting league support in nullifying the two forfeited games (Mission College Prep 02/02/18 and Arroyo Grande High School 02/06/18). As a league we recognize and agree that these two games should be assigned as wins (as they were on the field of competition),” the email states.

The majority of principals supported the measure (5 supported, 1 denied, 1 abstained), according to O’Connor.

“Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, this is just the first step in a lengthy process,” O’Connor wrote in a email to parents that shared the results of the vote.

The results of that vote were then sent to the CIF-Southern Section offices along with a plea to postpone the release of the playoff seedings, scheduled for Monday morning, until officials had an opportunity to review the SLO High appeal.

“The violation that occurred here is punishing kids who did nothing wrong, and we are willing to take any penalty imposed by the league and CIF, such as playing additional games without the offending players,” O’Connor wrote in an email to CIF-Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod. “We simply want our innocent kids to be able to compete in the playoffs — what they have worked so long for all year.”

O’Connor has plenty of experience dealing with CIF matters. He was a boys and girls soccer coach at Bakersfield High from 1992-2007 and recognized as one of the best coaches in CIF-Central Section history. In 2016, he led the SLO High girls soccer team to the CIF Division III state title game.

“We ask our players to give 110 percent, so that’s all I am trying to do,” O’Connor told The Tribune. “I am doing everything I can to fight for these kids.”

As of Saturday afternoon, there is no word on when or if the CIF-Southern Section will rule on the appeal.

Travis Gibson: 805-781-7993, @TravisDgibson

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