When it comes time to shuffle schools in the Sac-Joaquin Section, everyone's got their opinion and they voice it.
"For a regular board of managers meeting, we might get 10 or 15 visitors," said Will DeBoard, director of communications for the section. "If it's a meeting on realignment, we expect to have a big crowd."
Realignment takes place every four years. It's fitting that the process begins during the year of a presidential election this is the most politicized activity the section oversees.
School administrators hope to cajole the committee into granting their request. They usually want to be in a league that includes rivals and allows their teams to win titles.
School size and competitiveness are priorities for the realignment committee. It will host four or five public meetings before turning in its final proposal to the Board of Managers for its approval.
The process will finish next spring, or fall of 2013, and it will take affect in fall of 2014.
The meetings begin this fall after section commissioner Pete Saco and his staff draft a proposal, and the committee uses that as a starting point.
That's when the fun begins.
"It's an extremely crowded room. A majority of schools will send at least one representative," DeBoard said. "My experience is that competitiveness is the big issue, such as the smallest school in a league looking for a new home with schools its size."
There are fewer complaints regarding geography, as most leagues were created with the idea of limiting travel. Sonora will cite geography as a reason to join the Mother Lode League it prefers Highway 49 through the foothills rather than Highway 120 through Oakdale and into Manteca.
Sonora's losing enrollment, too. With 1,145 kids, it was the Valley Oak League's second-smallest school last year. Populations trends show that figure will continue to decline.
There are other issues to be resolved, as well, including:
The Modesto Metro Conference has two schools with 2,550 kids, four under 2,100 and Davis under 1,500. It can place the two largest schools in a new league, allowing the others to play in Division 2 or 3 against foes of similar size.
Central Catholic was promoted to D3 the last cycle because D4 schools didn't want to face its football team in the playoffs. With divisions now based on enrollment, Central is D4 again. With football no longer an issue, Central (434 students) is a candidate to join the Trans-Valley League.
El Capitan opens in fall of 2013 as Merced's third public high school and each will have about 1,600 kids. Significantly under Pitman and Turlock (nearly 2,200 each), and struggling in many sports, the trio can use a new home.
"There is a new proposal after each realignment meeting," DeBoard said. "There could be issues that might not have been raised earlier, but someone raises a good point later on. The goal is to get the schools in the spot that is best for them and their league."
Let The Shuffling Begin
Realignment is the most politicized aspect of high school sports, as school administrators jockey to get their programs in a league where they will enjoy success. The process starts this fall and changes go into affect fall 2013. Here are some logical moves to enhance competitiveness in the district's seven leagues:
MODESTO METRO CONFERENCE
Current: It is home to all seven public high schools in the Modesto City Schools district, after splitting from the Central California Conference in 2004. No consistency in enrollment, as Modesto (2,565) and Enochs (2,556) are among the six largest schools in the section and Johansen (1,834), Gregori (1,800) and Davis (1,464) far behind.
MCS likes the arrangement because it keeps down travel costs and lets the district dictate policies. No other league has such enrollment disparities, and this has played a decisive role in the conference's playoff woes in recent years.The MMC has just four section team titles in a decade.
Future: If the priority is athletic competitiveness, Modesto and Enochs need to break off. That will allow the other five schools to play Division 2 or even D3, on a par with the Valley Oak League schools.With Merced's third school opening, the MMC's little five (Beyer, Davis, Downey, Gregori and Johansen) join them for an eight-team D2 league. Modesto and Enochs join Turlock, Pitman, Buhach Colony and Atwater for a D1 league.
CENTRAL CALIFORNIA CONFERENCE
Current: The two schools in Turlock, Atwater and Merced joined in 2004 and got to keep the name of the conference, while the Modesto schools all but late-arriving Gregori and Johansen formed the MMC. Turlock schools have enjoyed the greatest success, with Merced's schools struggling in the marquee sports.
Turlock's schools are near 2,200, and BC and Atwater are at 1,900. Merced (2,665) and Golden Valley (2,202) will decline when El Capitan opens with 800 or 900 freshman and sophomores in the fall of 2013.
Future: With Merced schools already struggling to keep up with rivals, the situation will worsen with enrollment split three ways. Turlock's duo are natural rivals for Modesto's big schools, and Buhach has the athletic base to battle big schools. Only question is Atwater: Likely too big to play with Merced schools, but is it too small to stay in the CCC?
VALLEY OAK LEAGUE
Current: Two-tier league, as Sierra, Oakdale, Sonora and Manteca dominate Kimball, East Union, Weston Ranch and Lathrop in nearly everything. Kimball (1,973) is the only school to top 1,600 kids, while Sonora could fall below 1,100. Five of eight schools in the Manteca district, which lets them limit travel costs.
Future: Sonora wants to join the Mother Lode (1,000 to 700 students) because it's shrinking and sees no significant increase on the horizon. Manteca's five stay together Lathrop and Weston stay, only because there's nowhere else to put them and enrollment keeps Oakdale in the VOL.
If Kimball joins Tracy's two other schools in a league and Sonora moves, the VOL drops to six teams. It can stay at six, or pick up Davis and/or Beyer smaller schools on the north end of town. It would benefit both Modesto schools, as new rivals would inject excitement into the programs.
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Current: Central Catholic is the wildcard, with under 400 kids and playing schools four times its size. Central is here because of football, and its other sports suffer. Rivalries (two schools from Ceres, two from Los Banos) make this an exciting circuit. The growth of Pacheco it will have four classes this fall has expanded the WAC to seven teams.
Future: Small schools feared Central football and pushed it up, but with divisions based on enrollment, so Central is with the small schools again. Time to get it in the TVL and provide a rival for Escalon which dominates TVL sports.
Current: The most entertaining league in the district with rivalries and some of the best programs for their size in the state. Escalon, Hilmar and Ripon enjoy success across the board, and no school in the district can match Riverbank in its development of quality programs the past four years. A wildcard: The impact of declining enrollment at Modesto Christian, which might be in the Southern League if not for its basketball teams.
Future: Orestimba's a natural to join the SL, also solving the issue of Mariposa and Le Grand dominating the SL. It's too early to move MC down to the SL, which happens only if basketball goes independent. Don't expect any change: The SL doesn't want either team.
MOTHER LODE LEAGUE
Current: Argonaut and Amador are below 700, while Calaveras tops 1,000, but it's one of the most balanced leagues in the section. Great facilities at most schools and rivalries.
Future: Sonora (1,145) wants in, and a survey of the MLL revealed a 3-3 split. Like a rising tide, Sonora's arrival will benefit all of the programs by providing yet another strong foe it also gives Summerville a natural rival. Linden (769) is a TVL team, should it want to avoid Sonora (1,149).
Current: Mariposa (635) and Le Grand (485) enjoy success across most sports and have dominated many of the major sports. Ripon Christian's arrival a few years ago provided a solid member, but the SL struggles to stay relevant as it plays larger schools: Of the section's nine smallest public schools, the SL has five. It has some of the longest road trips in the district, too, with RC needing 90 minutes to reach Le Grand and nearly two hours to get to Mariposa.
Future: There is talk that RC wants to join the TVL the Knights were relegated to the lower league during the last realignment cycle in everything but football. It's football program is ideal for the SL, but many of its other sports would compete in the TVL. RC has just 228 kids, though, and the smallest public school in the TVL is Hilmar with 675 kids.
At what point are Mariposa and Le Grand sent to the Central Section to play with Mentoda, Chowchilla, Firebaugh and similar programs? It also would help other SL schools reduce their travel expenses. If Le Grand and Mariposa remain in the SL, then bringing in Orestimba to provide greater competition is a good step.