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MC glad to roam at home

SALIDA — This one was was for the girls.

While the Modesto Christian High School boys have gone everywhere to play anyone over the last 11 seasons, the Crusader girls have played a strong second-chair.

The girls have won their share of big games, including section championships, but the one experience that recently has evaded them was the chance to play a CIF Northern California playoff game in front of a packed home gym.

Thursday's girls-boys doubleheader easily could have been moved to a gym much larger than MC's 700-seat facility. Doing so would have meant more gate receipts for the CIF, which had the right to demand a venue change.

But in a show of heart by an organization frequently accused of not having one, the NorCal games stayed in Salida.

"Getting to play at home ultimately was most important to the seniors," said MC athletic director Greg Pearce. "Some of the girls' players talked to me about the importance of playing the game at home. They got their wish and I saw a lot of happy kids."

But it wasn't enough for MC to simply want to stay home. Last year, in the exact same situation, the CIF mandated the doubleheader moved to a larger gym, and both teams played at Modesto Junior College.

It was nice, and it drew a large crowd, but it didn't have the feel of the home game, with the home floor, rims, locker rooms, and familiar faces in familiar places in the stands. It wasn't a home game.

"It was our last chance to play at home and everybody knew that," said senior guard Queen Willard. "It was fun to be able to win our last game at home."

The boys, being a high seed, will get another home game and will play at MC this Saturday. The girls knew going into Thursday night that — because of their lower seed — a win would send them on the road for the next round.

Pearce said he anticipated the need for a larger venue two weeks ago, and made a phone call to see if MJC's 2,200 seats were available. They weren't.

There was a long line outside the MC gym at 5:50 p.m., 20 minutes prior to the girls' tipoff. By rule, MC had to hold seats for the visiting team's fans until 15 minutes before the scheduled start.

And while some people got tired of waiting outside and left the line, Pearce said later that all who stayed around got into the building before the start of the boys' game.

MC's desire to play the games on-campus came to fruition only when Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco argued for them in front of the tournament committee.

"Pete offered to the committee that MC wanted to host," said John Williams, the section's assistant commissioner. "The tourney director approved it, and it's the director's call. Pete bartered for them to play at home. We always do what we think is right."

Now, reread the paragraphs above very carefully, because here are the facts: MC wanted to play at home, and Saco not only supported Modesto Christian's wishes but argued on its behalf in front of the tournament committee.

For Crusader fans who believe that the section holds a grudge against MC dating back to the disqualifications of Richard Midgley and Marc Pratt, perhaps it's time to bury that 5-year-old hatchet.

"Even when we had a strained business relationship, we still had a great working relationship," Pearce said. "For the people who don't realize that, they wouldn't understand why he did this for us. He went to bat for us and I'm grateful."

By the 2008-09 season, Modesto Christian hopes to be immune to having to make a decision to play any games off-campus. That's the target school year for MC to move into its new 75,000-square foot athletics and arts complex.

It will include a gym that will seat a minimum of 1,500 fans, plus a performing arts center, locker rooms, classrooms and offices, and is part of a major building project at the school.

When the facility is completed, never again will MC have to scramble to find a gym to host its big games.

Judging by the wealth of basketball talent at the school, all the way down through the junior high level, there will be a lot of big games in the school's future.

For both the boys and the girls.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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