A rocky and trying season has come to a conclusion for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football program.
After being plagued by low numbers and injuries that severely depleted the Guards in all of their games, Bell-Jeff's final three opponents were informed Oct. 16 that the team will be forfeiting its final three contests.
In the midst of a bye last week, the Guards were due to return to action Oct. 25 against defending Santa Fe League champion Salesian. However, that game on the road, along with another league game at St. Anthony (Nov. 1) and a league contest on the road against rival St. Genevieve (Nov. 8) have been scrapped.
First-year Bell-Jeff Coach Lance Fauria confirmed the cancellations in a press release Saturday.
"The parents, faculty and administration of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School are extremely proud of the efforts of the young men on our football team this year," the release read. "These gentlemen reflect the virtue of fortitude.
"It is the decision of the school administration and coaching staff that Bell-Jeff will end its season. This decision was made in the interest of the well being of our student athletes. We will work with this core of players to prepare for next year. The schools left on our schedule have been contacted."
The news ends a tumultuous season for the Guards, who will finish the year at 0-7 with four forfeit losses and three on the field.
"We were contacted by the Bell-Jeff athletic director on Monday and they contacted all the other athletic directors in the league informing them of the cancellations," St. Genevieve Athletic Director Marlon Archey said. "I think that was something they had to do because of safety concerns. They just didn't have enough players.
"We commend Bell-Jeff for doing that and we understand why they had to come to that decision."
Bell-Jeff Principal Michael Stumph referred any questions about the cancellations to Fauria, who is also the athletic director. Fauria said Oct. 19 he would rather not comment on the situation at that time, but would be willing to gave a statement at a later date.
"It's disappointing that they have to end their season like that, with the cancellations," Salesian Coach Roddy Hiatt said. "But we had heard rumblings about their program having problems since July and we have tried to get them to confirm the game. But with that few players you can't really go out there and be competitive in games."
Hiatt said the Mustangs are trying to find an opponent for next week, but at this late notice he thinks the prospects of finding a team to play are slim.
Because of preparation concerns and low numbers, Bell-Jeff canceled its first three games of the season. The Guards were originally scheduled to open their campaign Aug. 30 in a nonleague game against North Hollywood. Also scrapped were the Sept. 6 nonleague game against Brentwood and the Sept. 14 nonleague contest against Bishop Montgomery. Although North Hollywood and Brentwood didn't count the Bell-Jeff game on their record, Bishop Montgomery counted it as a forfeit win.
The Guards opened their season Sept, 19, suffering a 44-6 nonleague loss to Chadwick in a game that was ended early after Guards injuries depleted their numbers further. Bell-Jeff then followed with a 28-0 nonleague defeat at the hands of Campbell Hall. Bell-Jeff then canceled its Sept. 5 nonleague game against Santa Clarita Christian and then lost Saturday in its Santa Fe League opener against St. Monica, 36-0, at Memorial Field.
In all three of the games, the Guards suffered injuries that dwindled an already slim squad. In Saturday's loss to the Mariners, the Guards were depleted to just 10 players at times. All three games were played with a running clock in the second half.
With less than 11 players, Bell-Jeff is below the requirement that is mandated for the minimum number of players needed to field a team. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations Rule Book, under which the CIF Southern Section abides by, Page 11, Rule 1, Article 3 states: "Each team shall begin the game with 11 players, but if it has no substitutes to replace injured or disqualified players, it may continue with fewer."
The early end of the year comes just one season removed from Bell-Jeff reaching the playoffs. Last season, Bell-Jeff had a 4-7 record (2-2 in Santa Fe League). The Guards qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division Northeast playoffs, losing to No. 2 Rio Hondo Prep, 57-6. Rio Hondo Prep went on to win the division title.
It was the first time the Guards qualified for the postseason in three years.