Controversy has erupted in a Southern California town after allegations surfaced that two Pop Warner coaches created a bounty system for their team which encouraged injuring opposing players.
The Orange County Register spoke with an assistant coach, three players and two parents from the Tustin Red Cobras who all confirmed that head coach Darren Crawford and assistant coach Richard Bowman offered players cash for targeting opponents.
However the other coaches and Tustin Pop Warner league officials in Orange County denied that there was any such bounty program. Coaches did say that the team targeted opposing players, but they claim they never told the Red Cobras to injure players and did not offer rewards for the targets.
"At no time was a bounty program ever discussed or was there an exchange of money for anything," said Pat Galentine, an assistant coach on the Red Cobras and the Tustin league president.
The players and assistant coach interviewed by the Orange County Register said Crawford was disappointed after his team lost the 2010 Pop Warner Orange Bowl and was determined to do better in 2011. When Crawford introduced the idea of the bounty to the squad in October 2011, the players said many of their teammates were excited about the chance to earn money for hard hits.
A few days later, Crawford allegedly explained the bounty system to the team during a film session at his house. According to the players and the assistant, Crawford told them that they would vote on the player with the biggest hit, and that boy would receive the cash.
A few days later, Tustin faced off against Yorba Linda. One of the parents interviewed by the Orange County Register said he remembered his son receiving money after that game.
"My son said he had won the prize," the father said. "He had a good, clean hit. The kids voted his play as the play of the game. He showed me one $20 bill. He said the coaches, plural, gave it to him."
Crawford said he couldn't remember if he gave a player money after the game. He says he might have given a boy money to go to the snack bar, but he is sure he did not pay a bounty of any sort.
The Red Cobras went on to play in the Pop Warner Orange Bowl, where they defeated the Santa Margarita Stallions. In the fourth quarter of that game, with the Red Cobras winning 32-6, a Santa Margarita player received a concussion after a hit by a Tustin player.
Officials from the Orange Empire Conference investigated the allegations but did not hand out any punishments. The national Pop Warner office in Pennsylvania was made aware of the alleged bounty system, but because the allegations took place in Orange County, the national office chose not to intervene and to allow the Orange Empire Conference to conduct the investigation.
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