A majority of football coaches in the Modesto Metro Conference said they won't protest the school district's goal to keep the conference intact but that carries a caveat.
"We want our kids on a level playing field with other districts, that's all," said Modesto coach Rod Long, who says the city's high school athletes get shortchanged. "Seventh-period sports/PE classes, allowing us to start practice earlier, weight-lifting opportunities ... those need to change."
Long was one of four MMC coaches at Monday's Modesto Quarterback Club lunch, and all were emphatic that the all-Modesto conference is not the reason teams are struggling.
"I think it generates a lot of excitement, having the seven city schools playing each other," Long said. "But the way the district set it up, the MMC does deny us opportunities."
The coaches on hand Beyer's Bill Flesher, Johansen's Maurice Chambers and Downey's Jeremy Plaa said the MMC is worth saving, but only if Modesto City Schools superintendent Pam Able and the district will allow changes.
The issue has been brewing for years, as Modesto schools struggle to compete in the region and the Sac-Joaquin Section. City football, for example, is 3-15 in the section playoffs since the MMC was created for the 2004-05 school year.
After Downey (3-1), the other six went 3-21 during their preseason schedules this fall. Adding to the concern is that Davis has just 1,465 students yet must play Modesto and Enochs, with 2,470 students.
Redrawing school boundaries to balance enrollment is one step, but coaches also want more time with players.
"Coaches need more time to spend on kids, because that's valuable time when we're trying to install a program," said Flesher, who hurries from his last teaching period and can find players already on the field. "We're trying to teach, and we're not given the time that other coaches at other schools will get."
Done right, Plaa said, city schools can compete with rivals in Atwater, Merced, Oakdale, Turlock and other nearby towns.
A crucial element, he said, is seventh-period physical education a class that allows athletes to start practicing before school is out. It's a popular concept throughout the region, and coaches also say the early start provides an option for an early finish, as well.
"I talked to Hilmar's coach, Frank Marques, about all the championship banners in the Hilmar gym," Long said. "He said a lot of those came after the school instituted its seventh-period sports/PE class.
"I'm teaching special ed, so if I have a problem in my last class, I might not get to practice for 30 minutes. We're not talking about a lot, just some consideration for these kids."
Able, contacted Monday by The Bee, said she has instructed the city's seven principals to meet with coaches from all sports. They will be expected to work with coaches to generate ideas that will make city athletics more competitive.
One of Chambers' first suggestions will be a year-round weight program to encourage athletes to stay in peak shape. It would serve a dual role, promoting positive health benefits and also battling obesity.
"What we need most is support, the district taking some initial steps so our kids get an equal shot," said Plaa, whose Knights (5-1) are the only the MMC team over .500. "We're not level with the CCC, with Oakdale. It must be fixed, but will it be too little, too late?"