LODI -- The Sac-Joaquin Section board of managers voted unanimously Tuesday to suspend the Franklin High football program through the 2009 season.
The section made the announcement during a news conference at its offices after the Stockton school violated a section ruling by allowing three ineligible players to participate in its game against Tracy on Friday night.
"Franklin has repeatedly thumbed its nose at all the rules that all our 182 schools have agreed to play by," said Colfax High principal Rick Spears, president of the board of managers. "All of the representatives, including Franklin's, have made an unequivocal statement today that we will not tolerate any effort to cheat, gain unfair advantage or sabotage the integrity of high school sports in our region."
The board of managers also suspended Franklin's entire winter and spring sports programs from the playoffs for the 2007-08 season. However, the board also said if the Stockton Unified School District submits a plan that ensures adherence to section and state bylaws by Dec. 15, it may reconsider those sanctions.
Additionally, section officials said Franklin football players will be allowed to transfer to one of three Stockton district schools -- Edison, Stagg or Chavez -- and be eligible to play while the Franklin program is under suspension.
"This penalty is certainly a first for a team in California," said Mark Tennis, who has covered high school sports across the state for 30 years as the editor of CalHiSports.com. "In most cases, when the schools play an ineligible player, they don't know he's ineligible. But in this case, this appears to be open defiance. They played them knowing they were ineligible."
Tennis said the only other comparable penalty came four years ago, when Stone Ridge Prep of Simi Valley was expelled from the Southern Section for violations within its boys basketball program.
"Obviously, these are very strong sanctions," Spears said. "But after our discussions in the meeting, we also felt they were fair. This was something that had to be done."
SUSD Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said the district will fight the penalty rulings in court.
"We have been judged behind closed doors and in the press without the benefit of due process," McLaughlin said in a statement faxed to The Bee on Tuesday. "We're going to court (today) anyhow."
A temporary restraining order hearing is scheduled for today concerning sanctions announced earlier this month, which included a playoff ban for five years after Franklin was found guilty by the section of 54 section bylaw violations.
The section found during a six-month investigation that members of the Franklin coaching staff paid air fare and room and board for 10 American Samoan players who came to the United States and played football for Franklin since 2005. It also asserts that Eleimanu Seumaala, the mother of Franklin assistant coach Jeff Seumaala, illegally contacted each player in American Samoa.
Three current players on the Franklin roster -- Bruce Seumanutafa, Storm MacOmber and Vince Maene -- were ruled ineligible, and that was to be argued in court today as well. All three played against Tracy on Friday night.
McLaughlin also said the school district will appeal the rulings to the CIF state offices.
"We have tried repeatedly to work with the CIF executive director to deal with their allegations in a straightforward, open and factual manner," McLaughlin said. "(They) have not seemed interested in working with us to resolve this situation."
The scene at Franklin High on Tuesday was circus-like with television cameras chasing students as police officers and security guards attempted to keep the media presence off school grounds. Several somber football players and other athletes were gathered near the locker room.
"The decision wasn't right," Franklin senior football player Harold Carpenter said. "To punish the entire football program is unfair because most of the players involved had nothing to do with it.
"I'm very angry right now."
Franklin basketball player Jamell Bradley said he doesn't see why every winter and spring team is banned from the playoffs for violations by the football team.
"We shouldn't be penalized for stuff the staff or the adults involved are doing," he said.
But section officials said penalties against the other sports may be lifted, should Franklin assure the section it will follow the rules.
"If you read the penalties, you'll see we extend an invitation to the school district," Sac-Joaquin Section attorney Scott Donald said. "They need to recognize there are rules and they need to be followed."
And Spears followed: "Stockton Unified has plenty of time to get a plan in place before the winter playoffs."
Franklin football coach Tom Verner said he's most concerned with the impact on his kids.
"Obviously, I think this punishment is very severe," he said.
The Sacramento Bee's Quwan Spears contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.