Officials at Capital Christian High School have asked a federal judge for an injunction against the California Interscholastic Federation to allow their football team to play in the postseason.
In the motion filed Thursday, Capital Christian asked U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to allow the Capital Christian School football team to participate in the playoffs for the 2022 season. The proposed restraining order would also remove the school from probation and would not allow new penalties against the school.
Capital Christian has been banned from the playoffs for its involvement in the CAPS League, a short-lived association football league formed in response to a statewide public health order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Capital Christian rented out its pitch and equipment to a club team managed by the school’s head football coach and sporting director.
The school argues in its motion and in its federal lawsuit filed last week that the Sac Joaquin section of the CIF treated Christian schools unfairly and violated their constitutional rights.
The legal case is likely to test the CIF’s financial resolve. Defending federal lawsuits can be expensive if they lead to a trial. More than 50% of the Sac-Joaquin section’s income typically comes from high school football, according to financial documents the section makes available to the media each summer. But during the pandemic there have been no games for more than a year and no playoffs for two years.
Capital Christian is represented by Sidley Austin, a large multinational law firm based in Chicago.
The school’s request for a playoff injunction rests on several counts. The school structures its involvement with the association soccer team in a manner similar to that of an AAU basketball team. AAU teams routinely rent school gyms for games in the Sacramento area and are routinely directed by the high school coach or a member of the school staff. As a result, says Capital Christian, the section has unfairly plunged into club football.
“I did not shut down the club football games scheduled for February and March 2021 because I had no authority over the teams,” said Tim Wong, who runs the Christian schools in Capital, in a statement accompanying the request for the injunction.
The lawsuit and request for an injunction both argue that Christian schools were unfairly targeted for their involvement in the club league. Grant and Elk Grove, public high schools, had many players and coaches involved in the league, Capital Christian argued, and were not penalized by Sac-Joaquin section commissioner Mike Garrison.
“I believe that Mr. Garrison was trying to penalize Christian schools for participating in the CAPS League,” Wong said in the statement. “The fact that he expelled several public schools for possible sanctions that were ultimately not imposed only reinforces that belief.”
Merced’s Vacaville Christian, Ripon Christian and Stone Ridge Christian have also all been sanctioned for their involvement in the Club Football League. The Christian schools were the only schools that rented their facilities to a club football team for games. A team from Elk Grove trained in a public park and played at least one game at Capital Christian. Capital Christian was handed a two-year playoff ban and his athletics programs were all suspended due to his involvement in the league.
The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that the CIF and the Sac Joaquin section, which oversees the Sacramento Territory, violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause on two counts. The CIF and the Sac-Joaquin section are also accused of violating Capital Christian’s right to freedom of expression and religion.
This is Capital Christian’s second lawsuit in a fight with the CIF, dating back more than a year. The school dropped the first lawsuit last week before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie Earl could make a final decision. Earl decided last November to uphold the CIF’s playoff suspension rather than issue an injunction allowing Capital Christian to play in last season’s playoffs.
Capital Christian has had at least one other dispute with government officials over pandemic restrictions. In August 2020, with all schools closed by order of the Sacramento County Health Department, Capital Christian attempted to open its doors by saying it was operating as a daycare center. This worked a few days before Sacramento County ordered the school closed.
A hearing on the latest application will be held on July 12. The high school football season begins in mid-August with the playoffs beginning in November.
This story was originally published May 6, 2022 10:43 am.