Fresno Bee: Valley Lawmaker Proposes Law to Give High School Teams Top Venues for Big Games
During testimony to the California State Senate’s Education Committee, Shafter High School athlete Ezekiel Osborne recounted his football team’s collective experience playing in their first-ever, State Championship Game. “So my dream night turned into one of the most disappointing times of my life, a game played in the middle of nowhere, neither team getting to play anything that resembled a football game in the ankle deep mud, no scouts came out to the tiny town to watch us in the terrible, unsafe conditions,” stated Ezekiel. Teammate Mariyon Sloan stated, “I was extremely excited about making it to the CIF state championship game, but it was not what I dreamed a state championship would look like.”
Ezekiel and Mariyon’s heartbreaking experience highlights why we need to ensure we provide every student-athlete with a fair and equal opportunity for the best experience possible to play in front of their friends and family, their network of supporters, and the university scouts examining their performance to gauge athletic scholarship prospects. That is why I am carrying Senate Bill 486, which would require the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to hold all State Football Championship games for all divisions at comparable, neutral locations. In California, high-income schools typically have access to better quality sport fields, modern gymnasiums, and state-of-the-art athletic equipment. Meanwhile, low-income schools may have limited or inadequate sports facilities that negatively impacts student athletic experiences and opportunities. This is why we need to ensure that every student football athlete in California that makes it to the State Championship game has an equal opportunity to shine.
“It is a shame on the CIF that they allow a state championship game to be played on a field like this. The CIF should know better than this, because this is not what state championship games should be about,” stated Shafter high school football coach Jerald Pierucci to local media. In 2016, unsafe field conditions led to the cancellation of an NFL Hall of Fame game. A joint NFL-NFL Players Association statement said: "We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight."
As of late 2022, CIF was working to renew a contract with Saddleback College to continue hosting State Championship Football games. However, without Senate Bill 486 in place to ensure every student has a comparable championship experience when it is their time to shine, the potential exists to repeat the institutional inequality that sanctioned vastly different experiences within one organization. In comments to local media, Shafter athletic director Brian Fester, who sits on the CIF Central Section’s Board of Managers, expanded on the need for the bill, stating: “It’s not an advisory issue, this is more of a state issue. This should have been done by the executive director.” Although CIF indicated in testimony they remain opposed to the bill, in their public comments CIF stated, “We look forward to discussing this legislation with Senator Hurtado,” signaling an opportunity for future collaboration to improving equity for student-athletes, and why we remain open to working with them on this bill.
Our student-athletes should not face inequality and marginalization when it is their time to take center stage and shine. This bill will ensure that any team who works hard to earn the privilege to play in the State Championship Football game will be treated with the dignity, respect and equality that they deserve anywhere in this state, so they are all able to showcase their hard work, talents, and skills in a safe and equitable space.
Op-ed appeared in the Fresno Bee, July 7, 2023 https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article277079963.html
 California State Senate Education Committee, March 22, 2023, minute mark 1:41:44, https://www.senate.ca.gov/media/senate-education-committee-20230322/video
 Leg Info Website information on Senate Bill 486 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB486
 Shafter football visits State Capitol in result to CIF’s state championship guidelines, Bakersfield Now, FOX 58, March 24, 2023 https://bakersfieldnow.com/news/local/shafter-football-visits-state-capitol-in-result-to-cifs-state-championship-guidelines
 Congealed Paint Forces Cancellation of NFL’s Hall of Fame Game https://www.npr.org/2016/08/08/489133590/congealed-paint-forces-cancellation-of-nfls-hall-of-fame-game
 State CIF trying to get championship games back at Saddleback, San Diego Tribune, Dec. 13, 2023 https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/high-school-preps/story/2022-12-13/state-cif-trying-to-get-state-title-games-back-at-saddleback
 Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Tourism Committee, June 13, 2023 https://www.assembly.ca.gov/media/assembly-arts-entertainment-sports-and-tourism-committee-20230613
 Hurtado introduces bill for neutral-site state football championships, Bakersfield.com news website, https://www.bakersfield.com/sports/hurtado-introduces-bill-for-neutral-site-state-football-championships/article_3c215db8-ad6d-11ed-b0cf-b327277c0abb.html