Rio Americano football saga: Star member kicked off team, team quits in solidarity, coach fired, team comes back with a new coach, beating rival Cordova
Rio Americano senior Guillermo Salazar is a gifted athlete with dreams of playing college baseball on scholarship. And while baseball is his first love, Salazar is also talented enough to play varsity football and basketball for the Raiders.
With Rio at the time already four games deep into the football season, Salazar asked head football coach Christian Mahaffey for permission to miss the Raiders’ Oct. 13 home game against league opponent Whitney in order to attend a baseball showcase in front of college scouts in Peoria, Ariz.
Mahaffey gave Salazar a choice – either play in the Oct. 13 game or quit the team. Salazar chose the latter. As far as both sides were concerned, this was the end of the matter. Salazar, a wide receiver/defensive end was set to turn in his pads and prepare for the baseball showcase.
That’s when 11 of Salazar’s teammates stepped up and quit the team in solidarity with their comrade. When news of this spread through the school, Rio Principal Brian Ginter intervened. Ginter decided that instead of releasing the 12 players from the team, he intended to reinstate them and make them serve a one-game suspension for insubordination.
Mahaffey, who had been on the football coaching staff at Rio for 17 years and head coach for the last four, did not agree with the decision. So much so that after a meeting between parents and administrators, Mahaffey was fired as head coach along with long-time assistant coaches Jason Wallace and Kendell Hutchings.
While initially some believed that Mahaffey forbade his players from playing other sports, he actually encouraged them to play other sports. He felt baseball, a spring sport, should not interfere with football, a fall sport, in the middle of its season.
“I think Guillermo is a fantastic kid and I hope to watch him play baseball at Sac State in the future,” Mahaffey said in an email. “(But) Brian Ginter was wrong and he taught our kids a horrible lesson. That I am sure of.”
Mahaffey likened the reinstatement to the students bullying their way back onto the team. Ginter said that his decision was based on the fact that “there are no written guidelines for the kids” that forbid them from participating in off-season sports activities.
Despite the dismissal, both Ginter and Mahaffey said there is no animosity between them.
“It was unfortunate how it unfolded,” said Rio’s Athletic Director Karen Hanks. “We’re moving forward.” The particulars of a meeting between parents, coaches and administrators are being kept private, according to Hanks.
After the decision to let Mahaffey and his two assistants go, Ginter said the school started to receive emails from interested parties concerning the now vacant head coach position. The emails totaled a dozen or so in all, according to Ginter, but it was one from the son of long-time area football coach Max Miller that really got his attention.
Miller, whose grandson John is a member of the current Rio varsity team, agreed to coach the Raiders for the remainder of the season. Most recently Miller led the Folsom Bulldogs to a state championship in 2010.
“It didn’t turn out exactly as I wanted it to, but I’m really happy to be back,” said Salazar.
Despite being short 12 players on Oct. 5, Rio came out and obliterated league foe Cordova by a score of 30-6 in the league opener. Rio currently stands at 3-3 on the year with a 1-0 record in league play. They face Whitney on Oct. 13, where they will once again be without Salazar, who will be in Arizona for the weekend showing off his skills for college baseball scouts.
With a depleted team against Cordova, Salazar believes that the Raiders showed that they are a team to be reckoned with. “They showed that our team can be great even with low numbers. Our junior athletes are really good and they stepped up.”
“This was the only team in the United States of America who had only two days to prepare for a football game,” coach Miller said. “On offense we only ran four different plays and our fullback ran for three touchdowns,” he said.
The victory over Cordova was big for the depleted Raiders, but Whitney poses a different set of problems. The Wildcats sit with a record of 5-1 and are coming off a 63-14 win over league opponent Mira Loma. Whitney has outscored opponents 238-48 in its six games.
Miller was the head football coach and athletic director at Rio from 1972-80. He called those eight years “some of the best of my life.”