Cole Hannum’s quest to play high school football his senior year disappeared Tuesday when the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) ruled that he had followed former Marysville football coach Brad Sparks from Marysville High School to Nevada Union High School.
Owen Sparks is awaiting his decision on appeal. He had been disqualified by the CIF because he changed schools in order to enhance his education and play football under his father for one last season.
There is a probability that a decision on his appeal of Oct. 18 will not be rendered until next week. If Nevada Union fails to make the playoffs, it will become a moot point.
Hannum moved with his father from the Marysville area to Penn Valley this summer. He had been a standout athlete for Marysville High School for several years. He was arguably the most talented team player.
Hannum’s father is a rancher. He desired to try his hand in our area. They both found Nevada County desirable and decided that Cole would attend Nevada Union for scholastic as well as sports reasons.
Sparks is another case. The family lives in Browns Valley. Father Brad had known Dave Humphers for over 10 years. When an opening emerged for the offensive line coach, he applied. Ultimately, he got the job. Initially, it was viewed as an incredibly positive opportunity. Not only would Owen Sparks get to compete with his dad one last time, he would also have the opportunity to receive what the family felt was an enhanced education.
Marysville Principal Gary Cena cried foul. In a four-page letter to the CIF, he outlined alleged violations that had been committed. Although there was a need to weed out several inaccuracies, the CIF ruled that both Sparks and Hannum would be disqualified for the 2012 season.
Calls to Principal Gary Cena for comment for this article went ignored.
In Hannum’s case, the ruling was that he had followed a coach for whom he had never played. Brad Sparks had been the junior varsity coach at Marysville High School. Although Cole Hannum’s teammate was Owen Sparks, it seemed a stretch to find where Brad Sparks fit into the equation.
However, the CIF had several choices. One of them was to make Hannum wait 30 days until he could compete. A second was to rule him ineligible for the entire season. They chose to disqualify him for the entire campaign.
Both Hannum and Owen Sparks were surprised by the decisions. As a result, they filed appeals.
Brad Sparks remarked, “This has been a surprise to me. I never considered we would be in this position.”
It took the CIF several weeks to set appeal dates. The appeal dates were in consecutive weeks in October. Hannum’s was Oct. 9. Owen Sparks’ was Oct. 18.
After hearing both cases, the CIF opted to take the maximum amount of time allowed to render a decision on Hannum’s appeal. It is expected to do the same on Sparks’.
Although the initial disqualification decision was made prior to the beginning of the football season, it took the CIF more than nine weeks to hear the appeal and again deny Hannum the ability to play.
It will take the CIF more than 10 weeks to render a final verdict on Sparks. It may well come after the conclusion of football season.
Dave Humphers decided to take the high road. He stated, “I am focusing on Cole at this point. The CIF is the governing body. I respect them. I don’t want to be sour grapes. Cole has been amazing. He has been a positive, hard worker. He doesn’t get to fight to win on the field, but he’s a great competitor.”
Hannum has been a great example on the practice field, but he has also excelled in the classroom. He experienced a renaissance at Nevada Union. His teachers rave about him and his grade point average has gone from 2.5 at Marysville to 3.2 at Nevada Union.
Sparks has also experienced a classroom surge. His improvement at Nevada Union has allowed him to increase his GPA from 2.0 to 3.6.
It made one wonder if perhaps Cena should be as concerned about the classroom as the playing field.
The CIF’s mission statement reads, “The CIF governs interscholastic athletics, promoting equity, quality, character and academic development.”
Somehow the fulfillment of this statement has fallen short in these two cases.
Here are two athletes who desired to play football their senior years. After Marysville High School’s protest, they were disqualified. They appealed the initial decision. They requested that a board hear their appeal.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. We stand today moments before the close of the regular football season. One athlete received the results of his appeal just this week. The other has yet to hear. It has been a dysfunctional odyssey that has stretched through the entire campaign.
As they crawled through an archaic process of long timelines, no sense of urgency and a season quickly dissipating, Owens and Hannum were mired in CIF quicksand that was quickly devouring their chances of competing.
There was little regard for the fact that the season was facing its final weeks. Appeals to the board for a quick decision so these students could play fell on deaf ears. It took nine weeks for the process to reach a conclusion. It ruled out the possibility of intervention by the courts. In the case of Sparks, a verdict still has not been rendered. How ironic it would be if he were cleared to play after the conclusion of the season.
It is a laborious process that hardly reflects the CIF’s mission statement. It has held these student-athletes hostage for nearly the entire season. In the case of Hannum, it waited until the absolute final day to deny him.
Brad Sparks reflects, “The most disappointing part of the process is the amount of time it takes for the decisions. It is almost child abuse. They leave the student hanging.”
He concluded, “It is all beauracracy.”
What happened in the case of Hannum? How is it that a young man and his dad might move to pursue greater opportunity only to be penalized for the change? How could he receive the full season suspension in this case? Why was it not 30 days?
One is only left to speculate as it is against CIF policy to comment on these cases.
However, Owen Sparks is convinced that it is more than just rules. He thinks it is politics and sour grapes.
Sparks remarked, “You have not seen Cole play. He is incredible … on both sides of the ball. He is big where he came from. It is not fair. He was punished for being as good as he is.”
Owen Sparks is perceptive. He concluded, “It’s been rough. I would not change my decision for anything. Being able to practice with these guys has been great. The process is frustrating. I would give anything to play one minute of one game.”
It spurns yet another question. Shouldn’t a player be able to play for his father? Doesn’t a situation like this reward family values? One of the items most lacking in schools is family unity. Shouldn’t this be lauded instead of penalized?
Finally, is the mission of the CIF really to promote equity, quality, character and academic achievement? If so, where is the promotion of quality, character and academic achievement?
No matter how you look at it, there has been woeful failure in several of the elements in this case. They have fumbled the ball from one side of the field to the other.
And if their private response to all of this is that it is the process established by CIF, then change the process! We are dealing with athletes who just want to compete. Cut through the red tape! Shorten the process. The manner with which both of these boys have been dealt is unfair. It reeks of politics, bureaucracy and government. Let the students learn these lessons later in life. They do not need them this early.
This has been a journey into adulthood for Hannum and Sparks. I doubt they will be the better for it. Have they grown up through all of this? Yes.
Is it the type of lesson we want them to learn? No.
The CIF should be embarrassed and ashamed. Somehow, I doubt it is.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at email@example.com.