Controversial rule interpretation disqualifies California girls' soccer team from playoffs

La Quinta (Calif.) High girls' soccer teammates pose with a cardboard cutout of Blackhawks star Brielle Leon. (Twitter)
La Quinta (Calif.) High girls' soccer teammates pose with a cardboard cutout of Blackhawks star Brielle Leon. (Twitter)

A top-seeded California girls' soccer team's season came to an end last week after a controversial decision made by the state's prep athletics governing body over a complaint filed by a rival parent. The controversy centers around a disqualified student athlete who watched from behind the stadium fence.

In the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section quarterfinals on Friday, La Quinta (Calif.) High defeated San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) St. Margaret's in a shootout, 4-3. The Blackhawks played without the services of their leading scorer, Brielle Leon, who was reportedly serving a mandatory one-game suspension for a red card she received in the team's second-round victory.

CIF-SS rules state, "a player who was ejected from the previous match, who knowingly, or unknowingly, participates in or is in attendance at the next match, will result in the forfeiture of that match." And "attendance is defined as being present at the team bench/area, inside a gymnasium, stadium or playing area. ... The intent of this rule is that the ejected person is not present at the next match."

Leon believed she circumnavigated that rule by watching the team's quarterfinal win with friends underneath the scoreboard outside the stadium fence, and La Quinta coach Bobby Quattlebaum allegedly cleared her attendance with a referee at the game, according to KESQ-TV.

Prior to the shootout, La Quinta players huddled with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Leon on the sidelines, according to MyDesert.comAfter the win, the Michigan State signee reportedly joined her teammates on the field, and Blackhawks goalie Arianna Rodriguez told her, "We did this for you."

In the second round, Leon received the red card after two separate collisions with Pasadena (Calif.) Maranatha High goalie Tatum French outside the box -- the first of which resulted in a disqualified goal and the second in a shoving match between the two girls -- according to MyDesert.com. Leon ranks first on the Blackhawks (22-2-1) in goals with 28 and second in assists with 11.

With Leon set to return for the team's semifinal match against San Marino (Calif.), La Quinta seemed poised to win its first sectional title in the girls' soccer program's history. But that soon changed.

The parent of a St. Margaret's player filed a complaint about Leon's presence at the game to the CIF, according to KESQ-TV, and the organization eventually forced La Quinta to forfeit its quarterfinal victory.

"The fact that she was in the vicinity of the stadium able to witness that game beneath the scoreboard is a violation of the rule," CIF-SS director of communications Thom Simmons told KESQ-TV, conceding that the ruling is open to "interpretation" but reportedly unwilling to hear an appeal on it.

The La Quinta coach took umbrage with the decision, telling the local television station, "Their whole motto with CIF is victory with honor, well this is not victory with honor." Additionally, the La Quinta community rallied behind the Blackhawks, using a #LetLQPlay hashtag on social media, and Leon posted a picture of a letter she sent to St. Margaret's coach Johnny Marmelstein on Twitter.

"Obviously, there has been a lot of talk about CIF and of me being in attendance of the game. I know that you have no more say in all of this than I do. I just want you to know that this situation has obviously made my coach, my parents, and my teammates very upset but as for me personally, I do not care about everything that has been said about me and the negative publicity I get. I do not care that I have been put on the chopping block for everybody to see or to blame or to accuse.

"But what I DO care about is the fact that my team worked their butts off to get to where they are today. And you, your administration and your parents are trying to take the blood, the sweat, the tears, the hardships and everything they have worked so hard for away from them. That is what hurts me. The hurt that you have caused me and the people around me is unbearable. If I could take it back I would, but I am a person that loves my team and loves the game of soccer. I would do ANYTHING to support my team and I would do ANYTHING to be by the side of my team whether I be on or off the field. That is why I was there (within the confines of CIF rules of course). I wasn't there to influence play. I wasn't there to "coach" my team, and I certainly wasn't there to go against CIF regulations.

"The point of the matter is this: I will not play high school soccer again if it means my team can play the games that they earned. I will take disqualification from the rest of the playoffs games my team earns if it means that they can play in the games they deserve to play in. I have been raised by my parents to be an honorable person and if I had not been told that I was allowed to sit outside of the stadium, I wouldn't have been there. What you have done and what your complaints have done are not only dishonorable but they deliberately false. I did not enter the vicinity of the stadium until after my team had won and after the game was officially over. Being a Christian school I would hope that you of all people could see how dishonorable and wrong this is to my team.

"Please consider reevaluation of your actions. Thanks."

Yet, the CIF-SS girls' soccer tournament went on without La Quinta, and St. Margaret's has since advanced to Saturday's sectional championship game. Brielle Leon probably won't be attending.

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