MURRIETA – When it comes to youth sports, coaches are responsible for setting a good example and being role models for their players. From the stands, or the sidelines, parents are supposed to be the biggest cheerleaders. However, that isn’t always the case, and a fight at a youth football game in Murrieta this past weekend proves that once again.
Harlem Edwards, 14, a player on the Perris Panthers midget youth football team, was struck by Murietta Broncos coach Eibylardo “Eiby” Manuel Funes at the end of a game Saturday, Sept. 23, at Vista Murrieta High School. Police were called to the scene at about 5:40 p.m. that night because of the altercation, which also included quite a few players, coaches, and parents from both teams.
“During the investigation, officers determined that Funes did indeed strike the 14-year-old player from the opposing team,” according to a press release from the Murrieta Police Department. “The victim sustained an injury to his eye and exhibited symptoms of a concussion.”
Though the youth football league carries the name “Murrieta Broncos,” it is not affiliated with the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, the Murrieta police confirmed in the statement. “School facilities are commonly reserved by outside youth leagues. The Murrieta Valley Unified School District does not employ Mr. Funes.”
Funes, 50, was arrested on suspicion of child abuse with possible great bodily injury and battery, the release also said. He was booked into Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in French Valley and was released after posting $35,000 bail the following day. Funes, who has no documented criminal record in Riverside County, will make his first court appearance on November 3.
“The coach comes running with like two other players, and right in front of me, he hits Harlem,” Neenah Kaowili, Harlem’s mother, told the media. “He goes unconscious for like two minutes and as he’s waking up, as he…looks like he’s trying to wake up, he’s trying to open his eyes…he goes into a full seizure mode.”
A myriad of videos have since surfaced after the incident, creating a storm of confusion, as have comments made by countless bystanders, and social media posts targeting one side, or the other. Regardless of what prompted the altercation, a child was struck by an adult, and the family of Harlem Kaowili, of Perris, is demanding justice following the assault.
A TikTok video from the scene shows Edwards, the Perris Panther player, on the ground as emergency sirens wail in the distance. In the video, the family shouts, “Harlem! Wake up! Stay awake,” and “Call an ambulance!”
Tik Tok Video (posted with permission to use by @strawb3rry.n3squik.rul3s)
Two YouTube videos that have surfaced of the altercation, though grainy, and filmed from far away, can also be viewed here:
Although Funes, who is an athletic trainer in the area, has been suspended and banned from the Murrieta Jr. All-American club, according to organization officials, Harlem’s family says it’s not enough and have sought legal counsel during the remainder of the investigation.
“To watch him seize and pass out because another adult; I can understand children, but this was an adult who intentionally hit my child in front of me,” Neenah said.
The Murrieta Jr. All-American club posted a statement to Facebook over the weekend:
“The incident that happened Saturday afternoon during our Midget game vs. Perris was an unfortunate and disheartening situation. We do not condone any actions that occurred on Saturday. This is a tough situation on all families involved. We care about all the kids and wish Harlem and his family well.”
“What happens if we don’t get the old Harlem back? What do we do? You get suspended from your league and a slap on the wrist and my son has to deal with this for the rest of his life,” Neenah said through tears in a recent ABC7 news interview. “They’re stating they understand what happened and they don’t condone what happened, but I don’t see, ‘We apologize.’ I see that they wish Harlem well, but there is no apology … there’s no sympathy.”
As a result of the incident, for now, the league has decided to dismantle both the Murrieta Broncos and Perris Panthers, effectively ending their seasons. The Southern California Jr. All American Football has written to say that the behavior from both teams led to the decision. Funes has not made a public statement since being released, and the current condition of Harlem, as of Tuesday, Sept. 26, could not be confirmed.
Police say the investigation is continuing and asked witnesses not already interviewed to call Officer Meyer at 951-461-6882, or can leave a message with investigators at 951-304-2677.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at email@example.com.
*We have blurred Harlem’s identity until permission to use photo’s from his family have been given.