Two youth football programs in the heart of dangerous East Los Angeles face the discouraging possibility of being barred from competition for something that is entirely out of the control of the athletes themselves. Rather, the leagues are being forced to stop because of a gang-related stabbing death between alums of two youth programs that followed a postgame pizza meal for one team of 9-11 year-old players.
As first reported by the Los Angeles Times, the East L.A. Bobcats and East L.A. Bulldogs have both been kicked off their traditional city-owned facilities following an October 6 incident where a 23-year-old who was at a pizza parlor with the Bobcats allegedly killed a 25-year-old whose family members were part of the Bulldogs program. While alcohol was cited as a contributing factor, the police who investigated the incident determined that gang and football affiliations were also at least as culpable for the deadly skirmish.
"Gang affiliations were mentioned, football affiliations were mentioned, and a fight broke out," L.A. county sheriff’s homicide bureau Lt. Holly Francisco told the Times.
Incredibly, the deadly fight wasn't even the only violent youth football postgame incident to occur at a pizza parlor in California in the fall; a Modesto, Calif. pizzeria was also robbed at gunpoint by a youth football coach while his team was there for a postgame banquet.
Within 10 days of the deadly fight in Los Angeles, county officially rescinded the Bobcats’ permit to practice at Salazar Park, a city park where the program had held practices for multiple decades. The Bulldogs were also banned from practicing at Los Angeles (Ca.) Garfield High, where they had been holding training sessions for multiple years. At the same time, the L.A. Unified School District banned both programs from playing games on any city owned stadiums.
Those conditions should have effectively ended the programs’ 2012 seasons. It did end the Bulldogs’ campaign, but the Bobcats creatively engineered a schedule where they visited every other team on their season slate, keeping alive competition for the players. According to the Times, the hope was that the program would receive some leniency heading into the 2013 campaign once the past violent acts had washed over.
That now appears unlikely, with the city yet to budge and grant either program an exemption allowing them to return to publicly-owned facilities. With the spring sign-up season just days away, both programs now find themselves in peril of folding altogether.
That’s a shame for youngsters in one of the nation’s roughest areas, many of whom have used football as an escape from the very same gang lifestyle which now has apparently cost them the chance to play football themselves.
"I wanted to finish my last year here instead of going anywhere else, because this is like home, this is like family," 12-year-old Miguel Aguero, a longtime member of the Bobcats program, told the Times. "If I can't play here with this team, it's going to feel weird."
While the city claims that it has tried to be as understanding as it can to the hurt feelings and disappointment of young athletes, they maintain that keeping public parks safe is a more important consideration, regardless of what that does to the young football and cheerleading patrons of both leagues.
"Right now we're dealing with a very real threat of retaliation," L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina told a group of Bobcats supporters last week, according to the Times. "We want to make sure that all the patrons and all the people who enjoy the park are going to have an opportunity to enjoy it free of violence.
"We didn't bring about this kind of safety because I just wished it to be. Here we have an active threat, and that's how the sheriffs are handling it."
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