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Placer's back in playoffs

It's game on this Friday for Placer High School Hillmen
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer High School’s playoff hopes are alive again with a game scheduled for Friday against the Oakdale Mustangs. A state Superior Court judge ruled Monday that California Interschol-astic Federation rules breached state law on equal scholastic opportunities for foster youths – opening the door for a playoff berth for Placer High School’s Hillmen football team. The CIF posted a revised Division IV playoff schedule after the ruling showing Oakdale and Placer playing Friday in Oakdale, with the winner going on to play host Dixon a week later. “While we strongly disagree with the decision, we respect the judge’s ruling and will move forward in accordance with it,” said Pete Saco, CIF Sac Joaquin commissioner in a statement. “Longer term, we will be exploring options, but for now we look forward to resuming and completing our section football playoffs without any further distraction.” An Oakland courtroom replaced the football field Monday as the California Interscholastic Federation and the National Center for Youth Law went before a state Superior Court judge over foster-youth equal-access to opportunities at schools. At stake for Auburn was a chance to extend Placer High School’s football season into the playoffs. Coach Joey Montoya was back from the hearing in time for a Monday evening practice with a team he said had “kind of checked out of football” after the season apparently ended 10 days earlier when a CIF board turned down Placer’s appeal of forfeited games. Montoya attended hearings in Oakland on Friday and Monday with Hillmen player Dalton Dyer, a 16-year-old foster youth at the center of the legal dispute. “Dalton handled it like a champ,” Montoya said. “He was so excited on Friday and ecstatic today.” Dyer described the judge’s decision Monday as the best news he had heard “probably in all my life.” “It was nerve-wracking – I couldn’t keep my feet still,” Dyer said. “Lots of kids don’t have to go through this any more. That’s what I’m really happy about.” The hearing was held before Judge Judith Ford in the U.S. Post Office Courthouse in Oakland. Art Woodward, an attorney whose son is a Hillmen team member, helped bring state law and the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law into the forfeit discussion. Woodward said before the CIF’s posting that he hoped the school athletics office would not be vindictive. “They should be taking a step back and looking at a team of boys who want to play football and who didn’t create the problem,” Woodward said. Because of a CIF Sac Joaquin Section ruling in October that Hillmen player Dyer was ineligible to play, Placer High School’s football team was forced to forfeit two league victories that would have put it into the playoffs. The National Center of Youth Law stepped in for a court challenge last week, citing a 4-year-old state law that it says trumps CIF rules requiring transfer students who don’t move with their families to fill out separate “hardship” paperwork. Once the “hardship” papers were filled out, Dyer was again allowed to play. Dyer was in foster care and the move in August to return to Auburn from Vallejo to live with an aunt had been court-ordered. The decision in favor of the National Center for Youth Law leaves Placer replacing Colfax High School in the playoffs. The Colfax-Oakdale playoff game was postponed after a ruling Friday in Oakland by Judge Frank Roesch that the Dyer case demonstrated it was likely the CIF bylaws violate the rights of foster youth under state law. He issued a temporary restraining order that stopped Friday’s game. With the next round of playoffs initially scheduled for Friday, Oakdale and Placer could have played a game before then – or the CIF could have moved Oakdale to the next round against Dixon, leaving Auburn’s team and the Colfax Falcons both on the sidelines. The CIF had posted an ominous message on its Web site Friday stating: “We are extremely concerned about the potential that the legal challenge, supported by Placer High School and its school district, has to derail the entire Division IV playoff schedule and unfairly harm eight schools that have done nothing wrong and are not parties to this dispute.” Placer High School or the Placer Union School District, which includes Colfax and Placer schools, were not plaintiffs in the court action. Instead, the decision leaves three teams – Dixon, Sierra and Foothill – waiting an extra week for the outcome of Friday’s Oakdale-Placer game. Dec. 5 will see Dixon play either Oakdale or Placer, while Sierra and Whitney will square off. The Division IV final would be on Dec. 12. “While some playoff teams will be delayed a week, it’s critical we complete the first playoff round before moving into the next round,” Saco said. “This ensures no team gains an unfair advantage by having an extra week to prepare for its game.” While it may be inconvenient, it’s the fairest way to proceed, he said. Woodward said that the blame – particularly for not notifying Oakdale or Colfax schools about the court action – rests squarely with the CIF. The CIF was given notice Thursday of the legal action and chose not to inform either school, Woodward said. The Colfax bus was turned around in Sacramento Friday afternoon while 300-pounds of tri-tip was cooking to feed thousands in Oakdale for a game that would be put on hold. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.