Billeci’s actions were out of line

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Billeci’s actions were out of line

Varsity football coach Eric Billeci shouts instructions to his team during last week’s game.

Varsity football coach Eric Billeci shouts instructions to his team during last week’s game.

Photo by Jeff Wu

Varsity football coach Eric Billeci shouts instructions to his team during last week’s game.

Photo by Jeff Wu

Photo by Jeff Wu

Varsity football coach Eric Billeci shouts instructions to his team during last week’s game.

Brendan Ogburn, Sports Editor

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The Cal High varsity football team enjoyed a 56-7 blowout victory over visiting Livermore on Sept. 9. The Grizzlies excelled in every facet of the game and cruised to a dominating win, pushing their record to 3-0 at the time.

The only thing missing from the near-perfect performance was head coach Eric Billeci, who was absent from the sidelines for the game, as well as the after-school team practices for the previous two days that week.

The only explanation given for Billeci’s absence from the game came from Elizabeth Graswich, the director of communications and community relations for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

“This was a personnel matter and therefore we cannot comment,” Graswich wrote in an email dated Sept. 14.

When asked for an interview, Billeci said, “No comment. I’m moving on.”

Billeci’s absence from two practices and the Livermore game came less than a week after Cal’s 28-15 EBAL opening victory over Foothill on Sept. 2, which was an extremely chippy and emotional affair.

There were multiple controversial moments and displays of bad sportsmanship throughout the game, but one stood out amongst all others.

Late in the fourth quarter, Billeci led his team in a series of taunting chants directed at Foothill junior quarterback and former Cal player Ben Wooldridge, who was in the huddle just several feet away from the Grizzly sidelines.

On back-to-back plays, Billeci chanted the phrase, “Just like Jacob,” several times in a heckling manner, clearly referencing Wooldridge’s older brother, Jacob, a 2015 Cal High alumnus who played starting quarterback for the Grizzlies his senior season.

The entire Cal sideline joined in the chant once Billeci began it. In the moment, no disciplinary actions were taken by the referees and the game continued.

There’s no doubt that Billeci’s conduct on the sidelines was utterly unacceptable, considering he is the leader of a group of young high school boys who are still just growing up.

The North Coast Section’s mission statement explains that one of its primary goals is “to establish a framework for the ethical conduct of adults involved in the athletic program.”

Billeci’s failure to exhibit good sportsmanship is quite disappointing to say the least, especially for a program that’s had so much success since he took over in 2009. The fact that he had to trash talk one of his former players when the game was pretty much decided is even more distasteful.

When does a high school coach ever feel the need to stoop to the level of a 17-year-old kid? When is heckling an opposing player ever an appropriate course of action for a head coach?

Never.

Billeci’s actions were downright immature in every way and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. Nonetheless, the most important lesson moving forward is that he learns from this mistake and truly understands the importance of his position as a role model for all of these young men that he influences on a daily basis.

Assistant principal Bob Spain denied to comment on this situation. Athletic director Arley Hill referred an email request for an interview to Graswich.

But both were present on the Grizzly sideline near me for the duration of the game and should have witnessed the heckling first hand. The three of us were all within 20 feet of Billeci when the chant began.

There were a few other notable incidents that occurred in the game against Foothill, all taking place before Billeci’s actions.

With just over eight minutes left in the game, Wooldridge took the snap and scrambled to his left for a four yard gain. At the end of the play, he was hit incredibly hard near the Foothill sideline by a Cal defender, and a mini brawl broke out on the Foothill sidelines.

Seemingly every member of the Foothill bench swarmed the defender on the ground and some other pushing and shoving took place, as some Cal players rushed in to defend their teammate.

Luckily, the confrontation was broken up in about half a minute by coaches and members of the Pleasanton police department. At the end of it all, referees made a very controversial call, deeming the tackle a late hit, citing that Wooldridge was already out of bounds.

As well as the unnecessary roughness penalty against the Grizzlies, the Cal defender was immediately ejected from the game, resulting in a one-game suspension per NCS rules.

On two of the next three plays, Cal was called for “roughing the passer” personal foul penalties on Wooldridge. Both calls were very controversial and possibly unnecessary, and it seemed as if the referees were really just trying to restore order to the game. Nonetheless, personal fouls are taken very seriously in high school.

At the conclusion of the game, a member of the Cal coaching staff was seen jawing with a Foothill coach  after both teams shook hands.

The growing rivalry between these two schools has heated up the past few years. Just last year, Wooldridge, already starting at the varsity level as a sophomore, and the rest of his team enjoyed one of the greatest single seasons in Foothill history, capped off with an undefeated EBAL title  and an appearance in the NCS championship game.

The glorious campaign included a 24-7 victory at Cal’s homecoming game, when Wooldridge returned to his old stomping grounds for the first time. Wooldridge played starting quarterback for the Grizzlies freshmen team in 2014 before transferring to Foothill before his sophomore season, which is permitted by NCS rules.

The Foothill game should be an important learning experience for the entire Cal football program that ultimately humbles them. The way they conducted themselves on that night was frankly unacceptable.