PREPS: Cheating, whether widespread or not, has been going on in high schools, too. By Jill Painter and Tony Ciniglio STAFF WRITERS When it comes to cheating to gain a competitive edge in football, the New England Patriots might not be as so notorious after all. The Patriots were caught stealing the Jets’ defensive signals in the NFL opener, but on- and off-field cheating has occurred for decades on every football level. From videotaping practices to stealing signals to doctoring home residence paperwork to illegal recruiting, the fine art of deception has been going on in football for years. And if you think this is exclusive to the professional level, you’re wrong. In 1973, St. Paul High of Santa Fe Springs had a dominant football team. Defending its CIF Southern Section championship from the previous year was seemingly all but guaranteed. St. Paul was the top seed – the Goliath of the playoff bracket – and had a date with Pioneer, the lowest seed, in a first-round game. On the field, St. Paul was superior in every way. But three nervous St. Paul assistant coaches apparently weren’t so confident. As Pioneer coaches conducted practice a couple of days before the game, they noticed a suspicious van parked outside their field. Pioneer coaches quickly hopped in their cars and blocked in the van. When they approached the van, three assistant St. Paul coaches and their film equipment tumbled out. It’s one of the most blatant cheating stories in Southern California prep history. Whether cheating is widespread or limited to isolated incidents is unknown. Some feel it’s a problem while others don’t worry about it. The feeling among most local high school and college coaches is that spying and stealing signals is plausible. But even if teams are stealing signals or videotaping during games, most coaches don’t believe the sophistication to interpret the signals and do something about it in time for it to matter is likely. St. Paul coach Marijon Ancich was never implicated in the spying incident, but his three assistants in the van were fired. St. Paul did pummel Pioneer in the game, but the victory was later forfeited because St. Paul cheated. “The only thing I’ve ever heard is a complaint a number of years ago that one of the schools for the deaf was reading lips,” said Bill Frazer, a longtime assistant coach at San Fernando High. “The extracurricular activities now seem to be in recruiting and stealing players.” Not signals. It can happen, though. Without evidence – like a van full of assistants and old film – how do coaches know for sure? Redondo High coach Gene Simon said he’s always on the lookout for strange cars at practice. He once spotted a man videotaping coaches at a freshman game. “He had his camera aimed directly at us instead of watching the freshman game,” Simon said. “We sent guys up to take his camera. We told him if he didn’t leave, we’d take his camera, and he left. We caught him when he first started to do it, so he didn’t have a lot of information. But it happens.” Doctoring paperwork of an athlete’s address so he can play at a different school is an issue. Recruiting at the high school level is against the rules, too. It seems coaches are more concerned with that. Stealing signals? So what? “When we’re on offense, we call the play at the line of scrimmage,” Loyola High coach Jeff Kearin said. “We ran the draw pretty well (against Thousand Oaks) and we have a code word for that. The kids came back and they were saying they know what the word is. Videotaping signals that you can study and make play calls during a game, that would be hard to do. “We have two people signaling. If they’re spending their time figuring out who’s signaling what and what that means and reacting to it before the play is snapped, they’re working on the wrong thing.” In 1994, a volunteer assistant coach for Kennedy of Granada Hills received a tip Sylmar High had an illegal practice on Labor Day the week of the game. Tom Sams took his camera and hid in the bushes at Sylmar and taped the practice. Sams seemingly took more heat for videotaping the practice than Sylmar did by hosting a practice that was against L.A. City Section rules. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000. The Pats also will give up a first-round draft pick if they make the playoffs. Belichick’s use of a sideline video cameraman pointed directly at the Jets’ bench was more sophisticated than the film equipment used by St. Paul. The Patriots’ cameraman wasn’t exactly tying to conceal himself. Not everyone does, or at least they don’t do a good job of it. Mira Costa coach Don Morrow had a few laughs in 1994. Mira Costa was playing Peninsula for the first time, and the Mustangs were going through their weekly walkthrough on Thursday night at Mira Costa when they noticed two people on the roof watching their practice. It turned out to be two Peninsula players, one of whom was Petros Papadakis, the former USC player who is now an outspoken local television and radio personality. “Whenever I see Petros or his dad, I usually tease them about it,” Morrow said. “When we nabbed them, we called their coach, Gary Kimbrell, who was a friend of our staff. They were talking about suspending those two for the game, and we were like, `No, no no. We definitely want them to play.’ They were just being kids. They weren’t being malicious. “That’s my best spy story.” Some coaches – like Banning’s Chris Ferragamo – don’t care, even if they believe a team is trying to steal their signals. “Years ago, people would come by and watch practice,” Ferragamo said. “I don’t care because you’ve still got to beat me on the field. They can watch all the practice they want, they’re welcome to watch practice, but they’ve still got to beat us.” Staff writers from the Daily News and San Bernardino Sun also contributed to this story. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.orgWant local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!