Breaking: SCVAL board denies motion to alter winter sports regulations following player ineligibility

Palo Alto High School Principal Brent Kline puts forward a motion to align local league regulations with state rules during a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League  board meeting this morning at Cupertino High School. The motion would have begun a process to lessen the severity of penalties for soccer players who participated in club soccer events during the season, which affected nine Viking varsity girls’ soccer players this year. According to senior Miya Whiteley, one of the players made ineligible, the penalties are too severe. “This is something I’ve been doing for most of my life and I played on the team the past four years,” Whiteley said. “And not getting a senior season is very upsetting.” (Photo: Benjamin Grimes)

During a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League board meeting this morning, members voted against Principal Brent Kline’s motion to alter the SCVAL regulations regarding outside competition, which is currently prohibiting nine Palo Alto High School girls soccer players from participating.

Implemented in 2012, the California Interscholastic Federation’s Rule 600 limits student-athletes from participating in club team sports while on a school team after the season has started. For winter sports, such as soccer, athletes participating in a club sport event after Thanksgiving Break are forced to forfeit two games for every game played in the event. If they violate the rule for a second time by attending another club event, they will be unable to play for 365 days.

The rule is commissioned by the Central Coast Section, however, SCVAL is one of the few leagues that doesn’t follow the same protocols. SCVAL’s regulations state if a winter sports player participates in an outside school event only one time after the Monday after Thanksgiving Break, they will not be able to play on the team for the rest of the season, rather than only after the second offense in the CCS rules.

As a result, nine players on the Palo Alto High Schools girl’s varsity soccer team were unable to play in the SCVAL league after attending an Arizona Soccer Showcase in December, triggering their first offense. Players from Wilcox and other neighboring high schools were also impacted for the same reason. 

The Viking girls’ soccer head coach at the time was also a coach for the Palo Alto Soccer Club and was terminated from her high school job shortly after the players were barred from competing in the league.

During the meeting, Kline advocated for a motion to align the SCVAL rules with the CIF rules, which if passed would have allowed the nine players to return after a follow-up board meeting to decide on a potential amendment to the regulation. 

However, the board voted 7-6 and did not achieve the two-thirds majority necessary, and the motion did not pass, leaving the current rules in place.

Viking senior and former team goalkeeper Mars Bau was one of the nine players made ineligible to compete in the league following the showcase. Bau spoke through a video message during the public forum section and said the result of the board’s decision was disheartening. 

“I feel obviously very frustrated because I think that it’s an unjustly harsh punishment for us [the players], and we’re the minors in this situation,” Bau said. “I feel like we were misguided by a lot of the larger institutions or people in charge that should have been more responsible.”

The board discussed the rules surrounding college individual development camps and team-wide showcases, two outside opportunities for sports recruitment. Under SCVAL rules, attending college individual development camps is allowed, but team showcases are not. 

According to Mei-Phuong Tran, a parent of a Wilcox soccer player who has been affected, this lack of consistency in the rules between SCVAL and CIF is frustrating. 

“Going to a college ID [Individual Development] camp means that the parents have to pay for your travel expenses, your registration fee, just for one person to go to that ID camp,” Mei-Phuong Tran said. “On the other hand, the school doesn’t allow a student to go with her team to go to a showcase where college coaches can see and evaluate you.”

In the meeting, parents argued that college recruitment opportunities like the team showcases were important for the team due to the lack of opportunities in previous years as a result of COVID-19. 

According to Wilcox senior varsity soccer player Viet-Thy Tran, who was affected by Rule 600 last year and was unable to play, team showcases like these are a large part of college recruitment for girls’ soccer.

“College coaches take into account both the college ID camps and these college showcases, but they go to these college showcases actively scouting,” Viet-Thy Tran said. “I would say about 75% or maybe even more college recruiting is done at these showcases.” 

According to Mei-Phuong Tran, the current rules place these players — who are looking to continue soccer in college — in a difficult situation. 

“These rules are asking 16-year-olds to make the decision between playing high school soccer and making a decision for college,” Mei-Phuong Tran said. “It’s not fair because the school asks the student to be involved in a school activity and also to train or to prepare for college. If that’s the case, why can’t you work to put those two together to make it easier for them to do both instead of either this or that?”

Bau faced a similar situation, explaining how showcases are a valuable part of recruiting opportunities as a senior.

“It was kind of a last chance to show basically my abilities and I’m someone who wants to play varsity soccer in college,” Bau said. “So it was important to me, especially considering I didn’t get a recruiting season during freshman and sophomore years because of COVID.”

Some of the Viking players who attended the Arizona Showcase obtained recruitment offers from the event, according to senior Miya Whiteley. 

“This event was our last showcase and recruiting opportunity for the fall,” Whiteley said. “After the event I had a coach come and we talked, and she was able to offer me a spot at the school.” 

Bau said Paly coaches and other athletic staff downplayed the potential consequences of attending the Arizona Showcase.

“There were no hard lines and we were never discouraged from going,” Bau said. “They told me, ‘As long as you say it’s to a college recruiting thing, it would be totally fine.’” 

The players who are now ineligible to play in the league have lost an experience — playing for their varsity teams as seniors — that they were looking forward to throughout their entire athletic careers, according to Bau.

“It’s something that you look forward to as an athlete, [knowing] that you will have your varsity senior night once you get there,” Bau said. “And to sort of see that disappear or slip away is very disheartening.”

Editor’s note: An editor-in-chief of the Voice was one of the nine players from the Paly girls’ soccer team barred from competing in SCVAL, but was not involved with the writing and editing of the story. Additionally, a previous version of the story implied the players were removed from the team instead of being made ineligible to play. This has since been corrected.