TUSTIN, Calif. — In a pee-wee version of the NFL’s bounty scandal, the head coach and league president of an Orange County children’s football team have been suspended amid allegations that players were offered up to $50 in cash to knock opponents out of games.
National Pop Warner officials suspended Darren Crawford of the Tustin Pee Wee Red Cobras and Tustin President Pat Galentine until the program can investigate and rule on the allegations, according to the Orange County Register (bit.ly/OsCHwh).
The investigation is expected to take at least several weeks, Pop Warner spokesman Josh Pruce said.
The Cobras, consisting mainly of 10- and 11-year-olds, advanced to the Pop Warner Super Bowl last year and finished the season with a 12-1 record.
A group of parents alleged that during the season, Crawford and a then-assistant coach, Richard Bowman, offered youngsters cash for big hits and to knock targeted opposing players out of playoff games.
One boy left a game because of a mild concussion and another former assistant coach, John Zanelli, claims the player that hit him was rewarded with cash.
Crawford, Bowman and Galentine consistently have denied that any cash incentives were paid.
Pop Warner’s Orange Empire Conference commissioner, Bobby Espinosa, said he found no evidence of a bounty program after reviewing allegations from six parents and four players. They alleged that bounties of between $20 and $50 were offered during three playoff games at the end of the 2011 season, the Register reported.
Galentine sent Tustin Pop Warner board members an email Thursday about the suspensions.
“The singular focus of our board continues to be the safety and well-being of our kids and the continued success of TPW,” he wrote, urging support for young players who “have been placed in the crossfire of this issue by no choice of their own.”
Former Tustin Pop Warner President Mark Gutierrez was named acting president during Galentine’s absence.
The NFL suspended four players after concluding they were involved in a pay-for-injury bounty pool that ran for three seasons from 2009-2011 and offered cash rewards for knocking opposing players out of games.
The players were reinstated after they successfully appealed the suspensions. New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season.