High school sports are about games, and games are about rules. Run with a football and you're a hero; run with a basketball and they give the ball to the other team.
You want to play the game, you've got to know the rules.
If you want to coach a high school sport or run a school's athletic programs, your rules come from all directions--the league, school district, Southern Section. Interpreting those rules almost requires a law dictionary; applying them may require an intimate knowledge of each of your players.
And if you make a mistake, the penalties can be severe and affect entire teams.
"You screw up, make an honest mistake, and you can end up breaking a kid's heart," said Famous Hooks, Los Amigos swimming, water polo and basketball coach.
Hooks is talking about forfeits, and a glance at the 1987 Orange County high school sports year provides an alarming array of broken hearts. At least 10 teams have had to forfeit games after coaches or administrators violated rules they had either misinterpreted or thought they were obeying:
--Last spring, Mission Viejo, University, Tustin and Katella had to forfeit baseball games. Katella's forfeit, in the final regular-season game, cost it a spot in the playoffs.
--In October, the La Habra football team forfeited four games, which eventually led to its not making the Central Conference playoffs, even though the Highlanders had been 5-0 on the field in the Freeway League. And the Los Amigos water polo team forfeited two games, eventually losing a spot in the playoffs.
--In November, Laguna Hills forfeited three football games, losing a chance at a playoff spot; and the Bolsa Grande football team forfeited five games, its Garden Grove League championship and lost the county's longest winning streak in the process.
--In December, Katella forfeited four girls' basketball games and Westminster forfeited three boys' basketball games, including the Valencia tournament championship.
"I can understand people being worried about what's going on," said Father Charles Motsko, Servite principal and a member of the Southern Section's Executive Committee, the body that administers, interprets and enforces the section's rules.
"But I can honestly say that I've never come across a case that was malicious in nature. When people break the rules, it's either through misunderstanding or misinterpretations."
That's not to say all forfeits are results of honest mistakes. The county's most publicized forfeit involved the Capistrano Valley football team in November. In that case, Coach Dick Enright did participate in an illegal act--viewing practice tapes of rival El Toro.
But most administrators believe that case is the exception. They say they want to obey the rules; they just aren't certain what those rules are.
Everyone involved, from those who make the rules to those who enforce them and those who have to work under them, admit the system is confusing.
There are five agencies making rules governing high school sports in California. The state Legislature, the California Interscholastic Federation, the 10 sections making up the CIF, the school districts and the leagues. The Legislature passed the 2.0 eligibility rule for students-athletes in 1986.
"The problem isn't that we have too many rules," said Gary Bowden, Canyon wrestling coach. "The problem, and what makes a coach's life so tough, is all the different sources that are making rules . . . which only adds to more confusion."
The broad body of rules governing high school sports in California is produced by the CIF, which governs everything from grade eligibility to the price a soccer referee can be paid. In turn, the sections, school districts and leagues can modify those rules to their own needs.
The Southern Section is the most visible and strongest rule-making and enforcing body in Southern California, comprising 479 schools, including those in Orange County.
"They hold the hammer," said Bob Zamora, Capistrano Valley baseball coach.
The Southern Section has a rule book called the Blue Book, and by Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas' own admission, "It's not an easy document to read."
Andrew Hernandez, Santa Ana High principal, thought early in the school year that his football team would have to forfeit games because of the use of academically ineligible players. He informed the Southern Section of this, only to be informed that the rule Hernandez had violated in the 1987-88 Blue Book, which had come out only a month before, was no longer valid. The kids were all right.
"It's a good example of the state of things," Thomas said. "We're embarrassed by it."
Others are downright perplexed.
"The rules are by no means written in concrete," Bowden said. "You read the rule then you hope you make the right interpretation."
Sometimes you do, sometimes you miss a chance at the playoffs.
La Habra forfeited its four games when a player who transferred from Servite in November 1986 without changing residence, was declared ineligible.