In the midst of a pandemic, at a time of intense political and social disagreement and during a time when many families were suffering emotionally and financially, the 2021 high school football season kind of ended on Saturday night.
It has been 16 weeks of uncertainty, 16 weeks of hope, 16 weeks of trusting coaches, parents and school administrators to carry out their mission of ensuring teens experience a return to normalcy.
Nothing came easy and nothing came without a choice. There have been interruptions, starts and restarts, successes and failures. Still, the bottom line is that the season has happened, the playoffs have been held for the first time since 2019, and players have been allowed to make memories that will last a lifetime.
The top four teams to start the season have never changed, except for the order: Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Corona Centennial.
The biggest development was Servite ending the dominance of St. John Bosco-Mater Dei Division 1 by reaching the championship game. Saint John Bosco had reached the final every year since 2013.
The new playoff formats in the South Section and City Section have not gone without controversy and will need some adjustment, but the idea of ââputting slices together based on the current season is here to stay. The culture shift in playoff games based on competitive fairness and not geography or registration is also here to stay. The challenge will be to ensure that a computer’s algorithm does not prevent accurate and fair matches from being set up.
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The best part of the season has been seeing individual players rise above expectations.
Who has seen Servite two-way lineman Mason Graham become the best at his job with 14 sacks and provide the blocks to spin quarterback Noah Fifita and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan?
It was fun to recognize a freshman doing great things for his neighborhood school. San Juan defensive end Weston Port Capistrano San Juan Hills delivered 12 sacks.
Who hasn’t been impressed that Corona Centennial cornerback Jaden Mickey started the season as a 16-year-old and ended it as a Notre Dame signing. Take that, you withholdings.
Supporting Glendora linebacker Braydon Brus was not difficult. He stayed at his neighborhood school for four years, stuck to his commitment to Northwestern, and finished his senior season with 125 tackles and nearly 1,000 rushing yards. He exudes loyalty and commitment.
You have to admire second-year Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown. At a school that has now produced three quarterbacks that have become the Heisman Trophy winners, Brown is 17-0 as a starting quarterback and never appears to be disheveled during games. He is so balanced and has so much confidence in himself that he can be whatever he wants.
Arlis Boardingham of Lake Balboa Birmingham deserves a standing ovation for spending four years at the same City Section school. Most thought he wouldn’t stay because he had gotten too good. Still, he chose to stay with his friends and achieved whatever he wanted – two city championships and a college scholarship.
There were team performances once a decade. Panorama City St. Genevieve, Simi Valley and North Hollywood Campbell Hall went undefeated in the regular season. Woodland Hills Taft went from a 26-game losing streak to a City Division III championship.
There was madness. Crenshaw had to withdraw from the playoffs because he didn’t have enough vaccinated players on his roster to continue under a Los Angeles Unified School District tenure.
Inglewood had one of their best teams in years, but made the reckless decision to go for a two-point conversion with a 104-0 lead over Morningside and have their quarterback pass for 13 TDs in a 106-0 victory. Yes, it gained national attention and started a debate about what high school sports are meant to be.
Then there’s Mater Dei and his problems off the pitch. The school decided to back down and do nothing despite two lawsuits that raised questions about responsibility for the football team’s alleged violent behavior. A school board is supposed to investigate the safety practices of sports programs. Meanwhile, the Orange School and Diocese are denouncing the media coverage, leaving people with the perception that winning championships is the top priority. Patience is exhausted. The school can either act to remedy their lack of transparency or experience a slow and inevitable decline in community and public trust.