Successive stunning announcements about Gilroy High School football players the first two days of October ended the Mustangs’ season after four games.
The high school and its athletic program were still reeling a week after a student said he was sexually assaulted on campus by fellow students.
On Oct. 1, Gilroy police announced that four players face charges of sexual battery in Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Court.
On Oct. 2, the Gilroy Unified School District announced that so many varsity football players had suddenly quit the team, that Gilroy would forfeit its remaining six games.
Police are saying little about the case, because the suspects are minors, except to say that four football players were cited for the assault on a fellow student after school on Sept. 26. Statements attributed to the school district by several regional news media said the victim was a football teammate and that the assault occurred after practice in a locker room at the Tenth Street school.
The news rocked a campus that two months earlier had served as a triage and command center for first responders to the fatal mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Christmas Hill Park, less than a half-mile from the high school. One Mustang cheerleader was among the 17 people injured in the attack, which claimed three lives, plus the killer.
This was the first season for football coach Simeon Nash, and is the first semester for Athletic Director Justin Pors and Gilroy High School Principal Martin Enriquez.
“The Gilroy High varsity football team no longer has the adequate number of players who are choosing to continue, and therefore the rest of the season will not take place,” the school district announced late in the afternoon of Oct. 2, about three hours after a Monterey newspaper broke the news on Twitter.
The forfeits meant that the Mustangs junior varsity team would play under the lights Oct. 4 at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas, enabling Palma High School to celebrate homecoming. They also meant that rival Christopher High would keep the Severance Bell for another season, by default. The forfeits also left Gavilan Division opponent San Benito scrambling to try and schedule a makeup game it might need to garner a top post-season seed.
“The district has learned that most of the varsity players have chosen not to finish the season and therefore, at this time, the season will not continue,” the district said. The next day, the district refused to say how many players had quit, when they quit or why they quit, and declined to say who made the decision to forfeit all remaining games. The Mustangs had lost their first four games.
The school district said it was continuing its own internal investigation of the sexual assault allegations, and promised that “updates will be posted on the District Office website,” even as “the Gilroy Police Department is continuing a concurrent investigation.”
A group of football parents met Oct. 3, the same night the district’s Board of Trustees held its regularly scheduled meeting.
Before the meeting, the district released a statement that read: “The Gilroy Unified School District and Gilroy High School administration are committed to providing a safe environment for all students, and maintaining the privacy rights and confidentiality of the students involved in this investigation.”
Police said the four suspects were not in custody, but had been suspended from school. They were issued citations for sexual battery. The police statement Oct. 1 made a point of saying, “There is no evidence at this time that this was a hate-motivated crime.”
Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras was quoted in the Mercury News, as saying “the aggravating circumstance was the number of suspects involved, and the use of force or fear played a role in our arresting decision.”
California Penal Code section 243.4 offers a lengthy definition of the different forms of prosecutable sexual battery. The penalty for an adult, if convicted of sexual battery, can range from one year in jail and a $2,000 fine, to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
When he was named the new football coach last spring, Nash said in an interview, “I want kids to learn and be more than just about football.”
“I want them to be about character, and we’ll use football as an avenue to teach character, teamwork, delayed gratification. The things they learn through the sport will hopefully carry on to other avenues of their lives.”
Barry Holtzclaw and Emanuel Lee contributed to this report.