The Santa Clarita Junior Wildcat Navy football team finished the 2021 season with an 0-9 record, going into this season more motivated and determined to be better — and it paid off, as the team was on the verge of earning its way into the Gold Coast Youth Football League’s Super Bowl.
But a parent’s mistake during an Oct. 29 playoff game that led to a technicality — cutting the team’s dream season short — caused about a dozen parents to speak out, and now they said the league will consider revising one of its game rules.
In what at least one parent called a Cinderella story, with the team of 12- to 13-year-olds winning four games in a row and having a serious shot at going to the league’s Super Bowl on Friday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, a technicality as the result of a volunteer’s mistake during the Oct. 29 playoff game, parents wrote in emails to The Signal, caused the Gold Coast Youth Football League to disqualify the team from competing any further.
According to Tessa d’Autremont, a parent of one of the players on the team, the Wildcats had won the game 24-6 and were celebrating when, the next day, they received news that they’d been disqualified.
“During (the team’s) first playoff game, there was a pencil and paper mistake,” d’Autremont wrote in her statement to the league, which she also sent to The Signal. “In all things where humans have control, there is an expected margin of human error.”
According to d’Autremont, a league rule states that every player on each team must get at least 12 plays per game. Each team, she said, audits its own players. A volunteer parent typically takes on the responsibility to audit the team. At the end of each game, the team turns the audit sheet in to the league, and the league confirms that teams adhered to the rules.
“During this game,” d’Autremont continued in her letter, “a human error was made, and one single player was short by two plays. The coaches had been told that all players were set and had received their minimum plays. At this point in the game, there was about eight minutes left in the game, and the Wildcats were up 24-6. There were 15 plays left in the game and ample time to sub in said player and meet the required minimum, had the coaches known.”
d’Autremont added that while each team audits its own players, the team they played that day apparently audited Santa Clarita, too, and, following the game, had alerted the league that the Wildcats had one player who was actually short two plays.
The players were devastated, wrote Marie-Lou Garcia, another parent who sent a letter to the league and The Signal.
“It holds a great deal of meaning to my son Tristan, his cousin Julian, and their Wildcats team who have worked so hard all season to come back from a 0-9 season the year prior — some even overcoming injuries — and fight their way to the Super Bowl Championships at SoFi Stadium,” Garcia said in her statement. “It means so much to the coaches who sacrificed so much time and effort to help these boys succeed. And it means so much to us parents who are proud to witness the growth, determination and perseverance our boys have portrayed.”
No one from the league responded to The Signal’s requests for comment about the matter, but d’Autremont said parents eventually received an email from GCYFL President Bennett Gill stating that he’d received a dozen emails from Junior Wildcat Navy parents regarding their disqualification, and that while the board “anguished over this decision,” they came to the conclusion that they had to disqualify the team because “the rule states that failure to play a player their required 12 plays in the playoffs is an automatic forfeiture.”
d’Autremont said that a subsequent email from Gill led her to believe that the league board is “committed to bringing the rule to the table to change for next season.” Further messages from The Signal to the league still went unanswered.
“All we wanted,” d’Autremont wrote to The Signal, “was to ensure things were done in the best interest of the kids.”
And while the Junior Wildcat Navy football team still won’t see further play this season, they’re eager to get back on the field next year, d’Autremont added. She just hopes, she said, that the league can ensure that such a mistake won’t cause their players or others to suffer such harsh consequences again.