By Lauren Kim, Online Editor in Chief
Written story by Megan Yee, Print Editor in Chief
The North Coast Section (NCS) Division 1 boys’ water polo semifinals pitted the Acalanes Dons against the Campolindo Cougars on November 12 in what some spectators described as one of the craziest, most incredible sports games they had ever witnessed.
However, both teams’ accomplishments in the pool have been overshadowed by the emotionally heated aftermath of a referee’s blown call during overtime that led to a confusing series of decision reversals by officials regarding the game’s outcome. After reviewing the game and NFHS rules, NCS declared Campolindo the winner due to a technicality in a delayed and highly controversial final decision on November 14.
The chaotic series of events left Acalanes players and coaches devastated and inflamed the existing rivalry between the Dons and the Cougars to a level that called sportsmanship into question.
“All of us were so upset, and we were trying hold back our tears,” senior and Acalanes team captain Charlie Rogers said. “We sat together and cried because this meant a lot to us.”
Although regulation time during the game was intense, it was relatively void of controversy with neither team leading by more than 1 point at any time, and the fourth quarter ended with the teams tied 8-8. The first period of sudden death overtime was uncontroversial as well, with neither team scoring.
It was during the last seconds of the second period of overtime that the controversy erupted. The Dons were ahead 11-10 with 23 seconds remaining, so they attempted to run out the clock by passing the ball and drawing fouls.
With less than a second left on the clock, Campolindo intercepted a pass. The player attempted to score but missed as the clock ran down to zero. Believing themselves victorious, the Dons exited the pool and prepared to shake hands with their opponents.
However, Campolindo head coach Miles Price kept his players in the water and approached referee Jeff Roy, insisting that he had called a timeout during the second overtime period that officials had failed to recognize. Roy had not personally heard an air horn or seen Price signal for a time out, but he conferred with the other referee, Brian Snapp, who said he had seen a signal.
“In conversation between the two officials, one official said he thought it was between four and six seconds,” NCS Commissioner of Athletics Gil Lemmon said. “Ultimately the officials decided that they should put five seconds back on the clock.”
Acalanes head coach Clarke Tamariki protested the decision, but the referees dismissed the protest and awarded Campolindo a time out and additional five seconds on the clock. The teams resumed play with Campolindo in possession of the ball. A Campolindo player scored at the buzzer, evening the score and forcing a period of sudden-death overtime.
During the third period of sudden death overtime, Campolindo won the sprint and scored what appeared to be the game-winning point. Campolindo players left the pool believing they had advanced to the finals.
Spectators describe the atmosphere after the game as “chaotic”, but nothing got out of control.
“There was a lot of heated stuff and some was a little borderline, but I thought everybody, especially the students, did a fantastic job of not getting out of control,” said Campolindo Associate Principal Scott Biezad.
However, both Acalanes coaches and Principal Allison Silvestri approached the referees after the game to file another protest regarding the additional five seconds of time.
At the time, the referees told them that they could not file a protest on a judgement call. Later in the parking lot, the referees were discussing the case and Snapp admitted that he didn’t remember seeing Price call a time out, according to Acalanes mens water polo assistant coach Russ Stryker.
This prompted the referees to call NCS to inform them that Acalanes was the actual winner.
In an email obtained by Blueprint, Snapp expresses deep sorrow and apologizes to one of the Acalanes coaches for the events that led to Acalanes’ loss in the semifinals.
However, Campolindo sent a letter to NCS saying that Acalanes’ protest after the game was not legal, which prompted NCS to put the game under review. NCS officials reviewed information submitted by both teams and consulted a California Interscholastic Section (CIF) rules interpreter and the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) rulebook. They ultimately ruled in favor of Campolindo based on the technicality that Campolindo had cited.
NCS Assistant Commissioner Karen Smith explained NCS’ decision in a statement sent to both schools:
“Due to the fact that the protest by Acalanes during the game was dismissed; that the end of the game protest was not within the rules of protest; and that both teams continued play through not only 1 overtime but 3 overtime periods and the outcome was decided in the pool. The ruling stands that Campolino won by the score of 12-11.”
Campolindo players were unsurprisingly “stoked” to get another opportunity to play in the game, according to Campolindo varsity water polo player Peter Brassinga. However, when Athletic Director Randy Takahashi announced the decision to Acalanes players and coaches, the lunchtime discussion ended in tears, frustration, and confusion.
“We’re pretty disappointed,” Stryker said. “They put their hearts into that game. They took it hard, they wanted to play for the championship. We told them to act like champions and we truly believe that they won.”
Much of the Acalanes community’s frustration comes from the fact that the referees awarded Campolindo an additional five seconds which allowed them to tie the game, when video of the game makes it clear that it was impossible for the Price to legally call a time out with five seconds left in the game.
Acalanes varsity womens water polo coach Misha Buchel walked Blueprint through video footage of the final seconds of the second overtime period. Buchel and a number of other sources who viewed the video estimate that Campolindo gained possession of the ball when the clock was at zero or possibly one second. Therefore, the earliest that Price could have called a timeout was one second before time ran out.
Drawing on his own coaching experience, Buchel said it wouldn’t have made sense for Price to call a timeout with less than a second left because his player had the best chance of scoring at that time.
NCS officials are not allowed to review video of the game by NFHS rules. Technology allows people to replay and scrutinize actions, but referees don’t have that option during games. They have to make their calls based on what they see at the moment.
“I’m not saying that whatever decision they made, if you were to view video tape, you wouldn’t come to a different decision, but they’re the ones at the game, and we have to live with their judgement,” Lemmon said.
Even if NCS officials had been allowed to use video in their review of the game, it would not have changed their final decision. They had to overturn the referees’ decision to award Acalanes the win after the game because their protest was not legal, as Campolindo had suggested.
“They are not contesting the timeout or the time added on to the game. Whether if it was right or wrong is irrelevant. What they looked at is the protest procedure and if it was carried out correctly,” Takahashi said. “The protest was lodged by our coach. The officials heard the protest and they denied it at that point. The officials put the five seconds back on and played through. The decision after the game to change the outcome was beyond the authority of what the officials could actually do.”
NFHS rules state that protests about situations that occur during the end of the game must be filed within five minutes of the end of the game. The referees incorrectly applied this rule to the Acalanes’ coaches’ second protest after the game and allowed them to file it. However, this does not follow the rules because Acalanes was protesting an event in the second quarter of overtime. The referees had already overturned their first protest about the same event and the players had resumed play.
Acalanes players and coaches are disappointed by the outcome, especially because the video clearly shows that they won the game. However, they didn’t feel that NCS was completely to blame because they had to follow the rulebook.
“I definitely feel cheated, but I don’t know if I would blame it on NCS,” Acalanes mens water polo player Nathan Brickman said. “I just feel bad for all the other kids on our team. The refs’ jobs were to officiate a fair game, which they did until they added the five seconds to the clock for whatever reason.”
A Campolindo player also agreed that the outcome was largely due to the referees’ errors. He even went as far as saying that Acalanes deserved the win.
“They could’ve given us better refs. I think they also could’ve made the decision sooner, but besides that they did a decent job,” said Peter Brassinga, a Campolindo sophomore and mens water polo team member. “Honestly I think that Acalanes should have gone to the finals, not us.”
Neither Roy nor Snapp responded to efforts to contact them. They were not scheduled to officiate the NCS final, and Lemmon declined to comment on actions NCS will take to address the situation with the referees in the future.
Although the blown call was the main cause of the controversy, Stryker did not see or hear Price call for a timeout and believes that he never did so in the first place.
Price declined to comment on the game.
In anticipation of possible uproar regarding the decision, Stryker and the Acalanes administration asked players to take the high road and stay off social media regarding the game and avoid spreading rumors.
However, this did not stop other Acalanes and Campolindo students who are not part of the water polo teams from tweeting hundreds of insults to each other over Twitter.
A rumor that Campolindo had “lawyered up” circulated quickly by both word of mouth and through social media sites, such as Twitter. However, Marc Jacuzzi, the Campolindo parent who was rumored to be the attorney, denied that the team had hired him. He said that the rumors were false and he only looked over the NFHS rulebook. NCS officials’ statement supported Jacuzzi’s statement, saying that they had not heard from attorneys from either school.
Members of the Acalanes varsity womens water polo team made posters in support of the mens team, and students also created a Facebook group where they discussed attending the NCS finals between Campolindo and Miramonte to show support for their Dons.
“I attended to support Acalanes’ water polo and show them that we all know they should have won the semi-finals game,” junior Kelcey Higgins said.
When the Acalanes boys water polo team walked onto the pool deck during the NCS finals, both Acalanes and Miramonte fans cheered in their support. Miramonte student fans also altered their chant to include Acalanes. The Acalanes mens team stood quietly near the stands observing the game.
While some of the game-time spirit was positive, there were also some negative chants. Miramonte students started a “Where’s your lawyers?” chant that some Acalanes fans joined in on.
Spectators also recall seeing Campolindo fans holding derogatory signs in the stands. Blueprint obtained one of the signs, which includes obscene drawings and refers to Acalanes with a word that rhymes with “Acalanes” but includes a slang term for part of the male genitalia.
“I saw signs from Campo that were pretty intense and the majority of the fans were cheering for Miramonte,” junior Marie Whitmore said.
Campolindo principal John Walker was not available for comment, but Biezad expressed concern and requested more information about the questionable signs upon hearing about them.
The Miramonte Matadors defeated the Campolindo Cougars 10-8 in the NCS finals.
Although it was difficult to push aside the controversy, tension, and rumors that erupted as a result of the semi-finals, Acalanes water polo players managed to keep their heads up and use the ordeal as a learning experience.
“I’ve played hundreds of sports games, whether it be soccer or basketball or water polo, throughout my life and never have I ever seen anything like that. It was definitely fun to be a part of and crazy emotionally,” Brickman said. “It’ll be talked about for a while, hopefully in a positive light. We are all proud of how we played, and we accomplished a lot this season.”