By Ken Stone
Is Castle Park High School on the verge of canceling its football season?
The question can be posed in the wake of the Chula Vista school’s forfeit last week to Coronado and the local CIF chief’s fears about the team “struggling” to find players.
According to Bernard Ansolabehere, Castle Park’s athletic director and second-year football coach, the home game was canceled due to injuries.
But The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday that “multiple players quitting” also were to blame. Jess Kearney, deputy sports editor at the U-T, later confirmed that the “coach said the team has had some players quit.”
In a statement Sunday, Ansolabehere said: “We only had 16 players able to suit up for the game, and it was determined that it would not be safe to put our team on the field.”
In an email sent early Sunday morning, Ansolabehere informed several people including Principal Viky Mitrovich and district athletics coordinator Joe Heinz that many of the 16-17 players looking to suit up Friday had little to no varsity football game experience.
“We had a lot of injuries the week before at Mar Vista,” he said in the note obtained Sept. 14 via a Public Records Act request. “We started that game with 23, I believe, and ended with 13 healthy players.”
He said he hoped to have a viable team going forward “while those players work their way back from injury and more players continue to gain eligibility from grades and practice restrictions.”
In the email, Ansolabehere called it a very hard decision to make and said his players were very upset to have the opportunity taken from them.
“It will be our goal to never have this situation again,” he wrote.
Fallbrook is set to travel to Castle Park this Friday, but athletic director Patrick Walker said Tuesday: “I have nothing yet from Coach Ansolabehere. At this point, I am trying to get ahold of their administration to confirm the contest.”
The Trojans, whose football team has produced four CIF Players of the Year and five league titles, won their first game in more than a year in its season opener against O’Farrell Charter but lost the next week at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach.
San Diego CIF Commissioner Jerry Schniepp said Castle Park told his office that it didn’t have enough eligible, healthy athletes to compete in the contest.
“I was told they had numerous players injured the previous week, have some academically ineligible players and have had a very tough time finding students who want to play football this year,” Schniepp said.Schniepp said he learned that some Castle Park students would “come out” for several days but then stop attending.
“I interpreted this as kids who were asked to play and then figured out it wasn’t for them,” he said. “I have not been told nor do I believe that they’ve had multiple players ‘quit’ that had either played in the past or been with the team this year for a significant period of time.”
Schniepp called it “very concerning” that a school with the athletic history of Castle Park is struggling to field a varsity football team.
“I believe Castle Park has faced a number of challenges in the past two years, including a dropping enrollment and a change in head coaches,” he said Tuesday via email. “I also believe they are doing everything they can to find players, maintain two football teams [including junior varsity] and be competitive.”
Schniepp said his office doesn’t get involved in team discipline or injury issues other than to “advise, help train and support the schools unless we receive a complaint of alleged wrongdoing.”
“I don’t believe that’s the case here,” he said. “Castle Park has some very good coaches who are doing their best but are struggling.”
The Trojans, part of the four-team Metro Pacific League, play a 10-game season. MaxPreps lists a roster of 51 players, including junior varsity. Last year, the varsity football team went 0-10.
Ansolabehere, a San Diego State graduate and teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District since 2004, said he couldn’t comment on specific player injuries.
He said he informed the team of the forfeit at lunch Friday, the day the decision was made — by himself and his staff.
The forfeit was “in no way … a reflection of the toughness or competitiveness of our core group of varsity football players,” he said.
In fact, he said, players “were in disbelief” that they weren’t going to play Friday.
In a season preview of the Division V program, the U-T last month said of Castle Park: “Numbers were a problem when Ansolabehere took over late last season, so the hope is that will be one of the first improvements for a team that did not win a game…. Not only did Castle Park have a small squad, 15 of those players graduated with only five starters returning.”
Ansolabehere said of the forfeit: “All in all, it was a very tough decision, but I believe it was the correct decision for the safety of our student-athletes. Going forward, we will work hard to turn this into a positive and not allow this disappointment to define us as the Castle Park Trojan Football Program.”
Updated at 1:45 p.m. Sept. 14, 2018
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