MODESTO -- A winning high school football team can do much more than boost school spirit.
It can inflate a community's property values, generate customers for local businesses, increase school donations, spike student enrollments and trigger college scholarships.
Stanislaus District football teams are having unprecedented success this fall. Never before have two schools Central Catholic of Modesto and Oakdale made it into the state playoffs, and several other local teams had impressive seasons.
"There's no question that winning teams provide an economic advantage for the community," said Stacy Malone, an Oakdale real estate agent. She said Oakdale football's five consecutive league titles and two Sac-Joaquin Section titles since 2007 along with winning the county Academic Decathlon 12 years in a row have increased the value of Oakdale homes.
If the Mustangs win Saturday's Northern California football championship and make it to next week's Division 2 state final, Malone said Oakdale property owners could benefit.
Malone has an admitted bias, considering her husband, Marc, is superintendent of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District (and a former Oakdale player and coach) and son Ty is on this year's team.
But real estate statistics support her contention.
Oakdale homes sold for an average $191,000 in October, compared with the countywide average of just $145,000. Rents also are higher in Oakdale than elsewhere in Stanislaus County.
"Families are looking for a place their kids can excel both academically and athletically," Malone said. "The combination of the two draws people to Oakdale, and it affects our property values."
Winning football teams also draw thousands of fans to Friday night games. Those spectators end up spending big bucks on food, beverages, gasoline and assorted goodies before, during and after each game.
"When there's a big game in town, we may have 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 people attend. It's standing- room only," said Pat Brown, president of the Escalon Chamber of Commerce. "I know people end up packing the pizza parlors those nights."
Escalon also has a winning football history, having captured the 2010 state championship. Last weekend, the Cougars made it to the Division 4 section final, but were beaten by Central Catholic.
Like Oakdale, Escalon has above-average home sales prices ($190,000 in October), and its football team is a source of citywide pride. Escalon even advertises its football victories on signs leading into town.
"Football is Americana at its best," Brown said. "We don't plan big community events on Fridays during football season. That's football night in Escalon."
Impact is wide-ranging
Central Catholic is in west Modesto, but its impact is regional. The parochial school enrolls students from 28 Northern San Joaquin Valley towns. So the school's football success stimulates a different economic response.
"We're in the middle of our annual giving campaign, and I've got to believe it definitely helps in our donations," said Jim Pecchenino, Central Catholic's president. "Whether it's a public or private school, people want to be part of a winning program. It draws people in."
Winning also attracts prospective students. Last Friday, about 250 eighth-graders showed up for Central's open house, and Pecchenino is optimistic many of them will apply for admission to next year's freshman class.
"When you have success like this on the field of play, it gets students to apply to your school who might not have considered it before," Pecchenino said.
After last weekend's win over Escalon, Pecchenino said visits to the Catholic school's Web site increased, and so did phone calls with questions about admission.
The campus has fewer than 100 freshmen this year and only 390 students total, but Central Catholic wants to grow.
"We probably could add 60 students and be comfortable," Pecchenino said.
Every additional student means more money for the private school. Central Catholic's average tuition is $9,100 per year, but about 25 percent of its students get at least a partial scholarship based on their families' financial need.
More than $400,000 in scholarships will be awarded this year, Pecchenino said. That could increase if donations continue to grow.
It is against the rules for private high schools to give students scholarships specifically because of their athletic prowess. But both private and public school athletes can score financially through college scholarships.
Players on winning football teams are more likely to land those lucrative scholarships.
College football scouts like recruiting athletes with winning records, assured Jeremy Plaa, the football coach at Downey High in Modesto.
Downey won 10 games this year and a league championship before getting knocked out in the second round of the section playoffs.
Those wins could prove profitable for Downey players.
"The last two weeks, we've had about eight college recruiters on campus," Plaa said. College coaches come armed with potential scholarships, and Plaa is hopeful several of his Knights will end up getting some.
The University of Hawaii, a Division I college, already has promised Downey quarterback Aaron Zwahlen a full-ride scholarship worth about $140,000 over four years.
"We're having a lot of success marketing our kids," particularly to Division II and Division III colleges in the Northwest and Midwest, Plaa said.
The further a high school team goes in the playoffs, the more likely its players are to be seen by college recruiters. That means they're also more likely to attract scholarship offers.
"Being in the playoffs definitely helps with exposure," Plaa said. "Our regular high school season and the regular college season end about the same time," so college coaches usually can't scout at high school games until the playoffs start.
During Downey's first playoff game, "our three defensive linemen had their best game of the year," Plaa said. "The more games you play, the more opportunities a player has to get good game film clips."
Having Central Catholic still playing will help its players attract attention from recruiters. Raiders star running back Rey Vega, for example, is getting looked at by California State University, Fresno, and the University of California at Berkeley, both of which are Division I colleges.
"Rey Vega is somewhat off the radar when it comes to recruiting," said Doug Benton, recruiting analyst for NorCalPreps.com. "But a run through the regional and state bowl games could bolster his stock."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.