What are high school sports all about? Sometimes those making the decisions only see dollars and cents, and common sense is not an issue.
Every two years the North County Conference re-leagues. Some years they say it is to save money and cut down on travel expenses. Some years the powers that be say it is to make the playing fields more level and promote fair competition.
This year the catch phrase is rivalries (translation: gate money, $$$$). Some administrators have mentioned travel as a variable but any league that has Ramona, Canyon Crest Academy and Torrey Pines in it is not all that worried about travel expenses.
My thinking is biased to a large degree. I am a coach at Ramona High School and have been for 35 years. I write articles about athletic teams at Ramona High school. My children played sports at Ramona High School and graduated from Ramona High School. It would be fair to say that I am biased when it comes to the athletic program at Ramona High School.
When I started coaching at RHS, our teams had very little chance of competing with the opponents in our league (the Costal and Avocado Leagues). I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
I am going to express my opinion about the re-leaguing proposals as to how I think it affects Ramona High School.
Here is the probable alignment for football for the Bulldogs for the next two school years: Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Torrey Pines and Westview. Add Canyon Crest Academy to the league (temporarily being called the 56 Corridor League) for the rest of the sports.
Ramona is at a disadvantage because all of the other teams in the league come from big districts and those districts have open enrollment or easy transfer rules for their student/athletes. Since Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito Academy (apparently academy now means does not field a football team) do not offer football, any student who lives in their boundaries can go to Torrey Pines or La Costa Canyon.
Students in the Poway district (Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Mt. Carmel, Westview and Del Norte) can also go to the school of their choice. Del Norte can take any student from any district and already has.
Those schools have a definite advantage, not to mention their facilities, budgets and ability to hire teacher/coaches, which Ramona does not have.
If enrollment (one of the biggest factors in competitive equity) alone was considered, Ramona would be in a league with San Marcos, Valley Center, Orange Glen and Del Norte. That league would be better for travel and competitive equity. Since the RUSD does not provide travel it would be better on the pocketbooks of the parents and athletes of the RUSD.
Let us examine the rhetoric being used for this year’s realignment. Rivalries: We have schools that we consider rivals, but they do not consider us rivals. Example: When San Pasqual was in the Valley League, they were our number one rival in football. They considered Escondido, Orange Glen and San Marcos as bigger rivals than Ramona.
No team in the North County considers Ramona as its number one, two or three rival. No team in the 56 Corridor League considers Ramona its number one, number two or number three rivalry. So Ramona would provide rivalry money for other teams but most fans would skip the long road trip to Ramona for football, soccer, basketball and wrestling gates.
Proximity: Schedule the schools according to geographic location to cut down on travel expenses. Yet the schools schedule cupcakes Northern California, LA, Riverside, Imperial and Orange counties in non-league play to get wins or money and the administrators are OK with that.
Torrey Pines is one of the teams that will be in our league. How many schools are closer to Ramona than Torrey Pines? How many of them are closer in enrollment than Torrey Pines? How many are closer in competitive equity in most sports than Torrey Pines?
Competitive equity: This is the joke of all jokes. In an informal poll of coaches, former coaches and former athletic directors at RHS and in the North County, every one said that Ramona High School will be in over their heads in most if not all sports in the 56 Corridor League.
“We will not be giving our athletes a fair chance in most sports. We will not be giving them a chance to be successful,” said Joe Bess, a former coach and athletic director at RHS. Joe would know. He coached a CIF championship team and he was coaching when his teams went through winless seasons.
Dan Marshall, who was one of the most successful coaches in the history of Ramona High School, also was willing to go on the record.
“I scheduled most of the teams that will be in the new league,” he said. “I always tried to schedule tough non-league opponents. We had years that we beat those teams, but having them in the same league and playing them back-to-back twice a season would not be fair. It would not give our athletes a chance to be successful or competitive.”
Larry Bringham, a former coach and athletic director who coached when we were the smallest school in the NCC and was athletic director at that time, was also critical of the new league.
“There are some sports where we would never have a chance,” said Bringham. “We will never have a chance in the country club sports (tennis and golf). Many times we introduce our athletes to those sports when they enter high school. Down the hill most of those athletes have their own personal coaches from an early age.”
One coach said, “Some of the programs in the new league have kids whose parents are willing and able to spend thousands a year on lessons and training and travel leagues. There are plenty of schools in the North County that we can compete fairly with and because of football gates we will be feeding our kids to the lions.”
Ken Scheib, the RHS basketball coach and boys and girls lower division tennis coach, said, “It would not be fair. The players and coaches would try their hardest, we always do, but we would not be giving our athletes a fair chance in most sports.”
A coach from Mt. Carmel said (tongue in cheek), “Who did you p--- off? I am glad that you guys are in that league and not us. We will play them in non-league games but we will still have a chance of winning in league play (San Marcos, Orange Glen, Valley Center, Del Norte).” Maybe the Poway Unified brass figured out a way to make money with rivalry games and have at least two of their schools win a league title. By the way, a Poway administrator is in charge of the re-alignment.
If rivalries are so important, why not have a league with just the Poway schools (Poway, Mt. Carmel, Del Norte, Rancho Bernardo and Westview)? Another league could be Torrey Pines, La Costa Canyon, San Diego Academy, Canyon Crest Academy and Cathedral Catholic. If Canyon Crest and San Dieguito don’t want to man up and field football teams, too bad. Nobody wants Cathedral Catholic but they have no more advantage than Torrey or La Costa Canyon or Del Norte. They all can take students from other school districts and do.
There is talk of letting Santa Fe Christian and Army-Navy Academy in the NCC in some sports, but not a school with Catholic as a last name. I admitted to my bias. Is anybody else willing to admit to out-and-out prejudice?
We have been very competitive in the Valley League in most sports. We have won and lost, but we have had a chance. That is all that any coach or player deserves: a chance.
We will be going to a league where many if not most of our teams will not have a chance of winning league. What geniuses think that putting a Division III school that is not a power in Division III in a league with Division I powers is fair?
Those geniuses will not be on the bus, on the bench, on the practice fields or spearheading fund raisers. They will be the ones firing the coaches for not winning. They will be the ones cashing in the gate receipts from the rivalry games.
I have taken teams to games where we had no chance of winning. Ramona’s athletes have always accepted the challenge. At the time we had no choice. Ramona was too big for the Mountain League (Julian, Borrego Springs, Army/Navy) and too small to compete with Oceanside (before the split with El Camino), Vista (before there was a Rancho Buena Vista), Poway, Mt. Carmel, Escondido, etc. Now we have options—equitable options but no rivalries.
Dean Welch, our current and very successful baseball coach, does not think the new league will be as competitive as other options. “We have played and beaten those teams, but to have to compete with them every week in league would be very tough. Winning that league would not be probable.”
Look at Orange Glen. Last year when they announced that they would not continue scheduling “rivalry” teams just for gate and try to give their football team a chance to win, everybody got angry. Escondido had to travel to Palmdale or Lancaster to find another team (patsy) to play. San Pasqual, which schedules big time opponents in the pre-league games and is now 0-4, had to find another team to play. It chose Cathedral Catholic for its homecoming.
Orange Glen scheduled softer teams than Escondido and San Pasqual and is now 4-0. Their kids feel good and their school is feeling good and more people are going to their games than when they were losing to the “rivalries.” Orange Glen did the right thing for its student/athletes. What a novel idea, putting student/athletes best interests in the equation.
The administrators will say, “Get better, step it up or I will find a coach that will.” But will they come up with the funds to hire coaches, pay for travel and upgrade facilities. Now they are cutting back on all funding across the board, hence the “rivalry” bull.
Will kids come out for sports that they do not have a chance of competing in? Will boosters and parents be willing to donate and fundraise for teams that do not have a chance of being successful? Will parents want their kids to go out for losing teams? We will find out.
What price are we willing to pay for better “rivalry” gates when we don’t even have a rival in our proposed league? The other teams don’t want Ramona to be a rivalry. They want a patsy.
Right now we are enjoying success in many sports. Our kids are competitive. They are making all league teams. They are winning. Why change so that other schools can schedule rivalries? Make the leagues fair and let the schools schedule rivalries in the non-league games.