TUSTIN (CBSLA.com) — A former assistant coach of an elite Pop Warner football team in Tustin claims kids were paid a bounty to injure their opponents.
John Zanelli from the Tustin Cobras told The Orange County Register that coaches “told their team to target specific players on the youth football teams from Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino.”
He said a handful of the 10- to 11-year-old children told him the coaches offered them cash for hard hits.
The coaches have refuted the allegations, and the Orange Empire Conference Commissioners found the accusations baseless.
In a statement, Steve McGinnis of the OEC said:
“We have conducted an independent investigation and held hearings with a panel of OEC Commissioners. The Orange Empire Conference came to the conclusion that the statements being made regarding a ‘Bounty System’ were either unfounded or over stated.”
A source close to the investigation told KCAL9’s Stacey Butler that Zanelli is disgruntled because the Pop Warner league banned him from the field during his son’s practices and games because of threatening behavior toward coaches, board members and their kids during the off-season.
Zanelli declined an interview, but told Butler he was banned from the field after he filed about 10 complaints against the coaches.
A source said the bounty allegations surfaced months after Zanelli’s initial complaint.
Kenny Mariboho, whose son plays on the Tustin Cobras, said the accusations are absurd.
“If there was any truth to this, or if I had a hint of it, there’s no way my child would play on the team,” he said.
Zanelli said he will answer questions with his lawyer on Tuesday.