Long Beach coach expressed concern for players’ safety coming to SCV
There were no protesters, counter-protesters, Thin Blue Line flags or related attire apparent at Saugus High School’s football game against Millikan High School at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium on Friday night.
“It appears to be a very mild night,” said Superintendent Mike Kuhlman of the William S. Hart Union High School District. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and it seems like there is a lot of positive energy in the air.”
The atmosphere was something about which the opposing coach had publicly expressed concern: The coach of Long Beach’s Millikan High had told a Los Angeles newspaper group that he was concerned for the safety and emotional well-being of his players making the road trip to Santa Clarita, and had talked to Hart district officials and local law enforcement seeking reassurances that the environment would be safe for his players.
A Sheriff’s Department source confirmed that Millikan had requested a police escort for the team from the freeway exit to COC.
Those in attendance seemed more interested in focusing on the game and bundling up for the relatively cold weather. Only three flags were carried onto the field, the one front-and-center being an unaltered American flag.
A week earlier, the reappearance of the “Thin Blue Line” flag preceding the Saugus’ football game against Golden Valley High School caused controversy, as the use of the flag drew a sharp line between those who view it as an appropriate show of support for law enforcement and those who view it as a divisive symbol of far-right political extremism.
The flag had been banned from being carried onto the field as part of the Centurions’ pre-game routine by Kuhlman in late-September. Following his decision, many in attendance of Saugus’ Oct. 7 home game were wearing Thin Blue Line shirts, wearing or waving flags, or had on custom-made apparel featuring the Thin Blue Line with “Saugus Football” labeled on it.
About a dozen protesters, and one counter-protester, were outside the entrance of Cougar Stadium before and during that game. Also in attendance were Kuhlman and school board President Joe Messina.
The player who waved the Thin Blue Line flag last week, after Kuhlman’s announcement and its protest, was not suited up for Friday night’s CIF playoff game. The reason was not officially disclosed. Multiple Saugus High and district officials declined to provide the answer.
Coach Jason Bornn declined to address the question before Friday night’s game. Saugus Athletic Director George Lopata deferred questions to Principal Genevieve Peterson Henry, who deferred questions to the school district. Assistant Principal Ricardo De La Pena said he could not comment on the matter.
Reached Friday night — as he was watching the Centurions’ game against Millikan — Kuhlman said the reason for the “no comments” was simple: “We don’t speak about student disciplinary or health-related issues so we’re not commenting on that.”
A Hart district source familiar with the situation told The Signal that the player in question was actually out with a leg injury. He had left the Golden Valley game with a leg injury in the second half the previous week.
Another Hart district source said the Millikan team had requested that the player not be allowed to participate in Friday night’s game.
Earlier this week, Millikan coach Romeo Pellum had told the L.A. Daily News/Long Beach Press Telegram it was his understanding that the player who carried the flag last week — who is one of the Centurions’ top players — would actually be suspended from the team.
“I’ve had talks with their coaches and deputies from that area and also school board members from the Hart Union School District, so what I’m told is that it will be right and that player is supposed to be suspended. That will show me a lot as to where they stand with that,” Pellum told the Daily News and Press Telegram.
“Their coach assured me that he doesn’t stand for that and that’s not part of his team and he doesn’t believe in that,” Pellum said in the newspapers’ article. “I appreciate that and I appreciate the phone call, but from my point of view, I am a Black man and I do have a lot of Black and brown individuals on my team. So for me, it’s about the safety of my kids and going into that environment, everything is on me. It’s my job to keep 60 individuals safe while we’re there and while we come home.”
After Millikan’s 49-21 victory over Saugus, Pellum was unavailable for comment as he and his team left the field immediately after the postgame handshake.
Additional reporting by Tyler Wainfeld and Justin Vigil-Zuniga.