The football team’s season officially ended after its 30-27 victory against La Salle College Preparatory Nov. 1, despite Athletic Director Terry Barnum implying otherwise before the game.
“During a talk on Thursday, Barnum told us that if we beat La Salle, then we were guaranteed a CIF playoff berth,” Wide receiver and safety Chase Harleston ’21 said. “Other members of the coaching staff had also said the same thing during the week, so I believe a large majority of the team was under the impression that after getting a win, we’d earn another game.”
These promises may have inspired the team, as it ended up winning, seemingly sneaking into the playoffs as a result, Harleston said. That changed Nov. 3, when Barnum sent an email to the players and parents, explaining that the team had actually missed the playoffs.
“Last week, I was excited about our team’s opportunity to qualify for the CIF-SS Division VI playoffs if we were able to defeat La Salle,” Barnum said in the email. “I shared that excitement with the team and several parents. I did so with the knowledge that the third place team from our league had made the playoffs every year for over 10 years. Even in years when we did not finish in the top three in league, we had applied for an at-large berth and received it. I was under the impression that would be the case again this year. Unfortunately, due to strong performances from other schools in our division, our overall record was not good enough to qualify us for the playoffs.”
After receiving the email, several players said they were unhappy with this turn of events.
“I think right now a lot of people on the team are just very upset that we didn’t make the playoffs when many people were certain we would,” Harleston said. “Personally I just feel frustrated because I want another chance to go out on the field with my brothers.”
One player, Alonzo*, said he sympathized with seniors.
“Many of [the seniors] will never put on pads again, and having their last opportunity seemingly ripped from their grasp is a terrible way to show them respect for all they have given to our program,” Alonzo said. “They deserved much better, and they never got the opportunity to say a last farewell to the game and the team they have put so much hard work into.”
Lineman Vito Ameen ’20 described the flurry of emotions he experienced after receiving this disappointing news.
“I’m heated,” Ameen said. “The whole team is heated. We feel lied to and we feel like we can’t trust them anymore. They told our parents we’d make it, so I had to come home from an ACT crying while trying to explain to my mom that we didn’t make it and my season was over. I had one more in me. I was mentally ready for one last game with my brothers. What I wasn’t ready for was an email saying my season was over. Having to explain why we didn’t make it when we thought we were in hurt so bad. Having to walk around crying my eyes out while people asked me what was wrong was heartbreaking.”
The team’s relationship with the athletic department became more tense throughout the year, beginning with former program head Mike Burnett’s unexpected resignation, and concluding with this recent series of events, Alonzo* said.
“For all the hard work that my teammates and I put in, this season was extremely disappointing from start to finish,” Alonzo said. “I believe a big part of that had to do with the actions of the athletic department starting from the top. Time and time again, we were given shocking or disappointing news which led to a demoralized team, and poor results.”
After the incident, Barnum took responsibility for the misunderstanding and apologized for what happened.
“I should have been a little more clear in my messaging to the team, and for that I’m sorry,” Barnum said. “I should have done a better job of that, I know there were a lot of kids that were disappointed and I take full responsibility for misleading them. That was not my intent, but I understand how they were disappointed by it.”
Wide receiver and outside linebacker Brendan Kang ’20 said he was happy with the team’s fight and was content with how is high school career came to an end.
“Of course the season didn’t end how we would have liked, but I’m extremely proud of all of my teammates,” Kang said. “I had some of the most memorable games and moments of my life in this season alone, and I am excited to see what this team accomplishes with all of the young talent we have. This season has bonded me with my teammates closer than I could ever have imagined, and I could not ask for a different ending to my four years of playing for the Wolverines.”
The team finished the year with a 4-6 overall record and a 2-2 league record, missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The team heads into next year with questions still left unanswered, including who will replace interim program head Ramsey Lambert next year.
*Names have been changed.