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Court Rejects Savanna Bid to Re-Enter the Playoffs


Savanna High School lost its bid to be reinstated to the Southern Section playoffs Friday when an Orange County Superior Court commissioner ruled that the team had been properly removed from the postseason by Orange League principals.

Savanna, which won its first league title in the school's history, was forced to forfeit its six victories, a tie, a share of the league championship and a spot in the Division VI playoffs because of an ineligible player.

The Rebels were originally scheduled to play Fullerton Friday night in a first-round game, but were replaced by Brea-Olinda after it was discovered that a Savanna player was a fifth-year senior.

The Savanna booster club went to court Thursday in an attempt to get the team back into the playoffs. However, Commissioner Julian Cimbaluk ruled Friday that there were no grounds to reinstate the Rebels.

"I see no abuse of discretion or violation of the rules," Cimbaluk said. "They (league principals) didn't arbitrarily disqualify the team. They had the right to do so under the rules."

Savanna maintained that league rules were vague concerning forfeits and that resolution of a case such as this was not clearly defined.

They also argued that rule No. 2910 in the Southern Section rule book stipulates that "the Commissioner of Athletics may affect the protested players only and not render the team ineligible."

"We never challenged the CIF over the eligibility of the player," Savanna Coach Fred DiPalma said. "We felt we were in the playoffs and there were no grounds to remove us."

The decision ended a week of litigation involving three Southern Section teams; Huntington Beach, Savanna and La Puente all sought reinstatement to the playoffs after using alleged ineligible players.

Tuesday, Huntington Beach won a temporary restraining order in Superior Court, allowing it back into the playoffs. But Thursday, that decision was stayed in favor of the Southern Section by the 4th District Court of Appeal.

La Puente's bid was turned down in Pomona Superior Court Thursday.

In the Savanna case, Cimbaluk questioned the right of the team's booster club, which took up the case, to seek a restraining order.

"The courts will not interfere with the discipline or expulsion of members of private organizations or associations where the action was taken in good faith in accordance with its rules," Cimbaluk said.

After the decision was announced, DiPalma and Savanna principal William Wong met with the team and informed the players of the ruling.

"After the Huntington Beach ruling, we expected this," DiPalma said. "The seniors took it the hardest because they won't get another chance to play. The underclassmen and the coaches are already getting ready for next season."

Times staff writer Mark Landsbaum contributed to this story.

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