Playing sports at Central Catholic High School means being ready to endure long seasons.
Last fall, the Raiders’ football team was the last small-school team in Northern California still playing, as they battled all the way to a state bowl championship.
And now that run of success has reached the basketball court, where Central Catholic is the last boys team still standing in the Stanislaus District.
The Raiders have reached a level heretofore uncharted for the program, as they’re getting set to battle St. Joseph’s of Alameda for the NorCal Division 5 title and a berth in the state championship game. Tipoff is set for noon Saturday at American Canyon High School, north of Vallejo.
Between football and boys basketball, Central Catholic has notched 42 wins this season, with the Raiders taking a 27-6 record into the weekend. That’s a record for the Stanislaus District, eclipsing the combined 40 wins notched by Modesto Christian in 2005-06.
And it hasn’t always been easy for CCHS coach Mike Wilson, who 10 years ago took the helm of a basketball program at what very much was a football school. In some ways, it still is.
“Since I’ve been here I have had to compete against football a little bit, but that atmosphere is changing,” Wilson said. “I used to have to depend on getting a certain number of football players out for the team just to be able to compete, and it’s not like that anymore. I love having the football players on the team, but we have a solid group of kids who eat, sleep and dream basketball, which we didn’t have when I first got here.”
There are two players in his rotation who were key members of the Raiders’ 15-1 state title gridiron team. Guard Donovin Townsend – the Western Athletic Conference basketball MVP – and forward Jared Rice both were two-way players last fall.
“It’s nice being at a school with a winning environment and a winning culture, where everybody is up and excited about it,” Townsend said.
The emergence of basketball at Central Catholic is not an all-of-the-sudden phenomenon. Since joining the WAC eight years ago the Raiders are 176-62 overall and 81-25 in league play. The overall success of its athletic programs will push CCHS into the Valley Oak League next year, and also will force the Raiders into the Division 4 playoffs.
And while a major fund-raising effort is underway to finance the construction of a new athletic center on campus, Central remains saddled with playing in one of the district’s smallest gyms.
“Football always has been a tough act to follow here,” Wilson said. “There are expectations to win here, but I’ve always put more pressure on myself to win than anybody within the school has put on me. The administration is very supportive and very excited about the growth and success of the program. The success of athletic programs helps bring kids to the school.”
Central Catholic’s opponent has no such identity crisis. The Pilots (28-5) have been one of Northern California’s elite basketball teams since the days Bay Area hoop legend Jason Kidd wore the uniform.
But St. Joe’s is certain to enter Saturday’s game with equal parts anger and trepidation. Back on Dec, 19, one day before Central Catholic’s football team defeated Bakersfield Christian for a state bowl title, the Raiders went into the Pilots’ hangar and emerged with a 68-42 victory. It was the most lopsided home loss in four years for St. Joe’s.
“When we played them and won at their place, we were looking back at the time they beat us,” said senior forward Jonathan Boddie. “We were just looking to play hard, and when we got into the game it happened that we played well.”
According to Wilson, it was more than just playing well.
“I think, going back to that game, it was one of those nights as a coach that you dream about,” he said. “Everything that could go right, was going right.
“I think it was just a perfect night for us when we played there, but I know the kids gained confidence from that experience. They know they can compete with St. Joe’s and that’s what we’re talking about as a group because we just have to come out of the gate with confidence.”
Central Catholic was the only Northern California school to win a football bowl in December, but two other bowl champions – St. John Bosco of Bellflower in Division 2 and Chaminade of West Hills in Division 3 – have boys basketball teams playing Saturday for regional titles.
But with a win Saturday, followed by another in the state title game at Sleep Train Arena on March 28, CCHS would become the first school in the District to win state titles in football and boys’ basketball in the same school year.
“You’re looking at the possibility of doing something the school’s never done,” Wilson said. “We could get to the state and it’s very exciting. There’s a feeling of accomplishment already, although we’re certainly not done.”