Historic league rivalries, some of which have existed since World War II, would fade into the pages of high school yearbooks under the realignment plan proposed Tuesday by the Sac-Joaquin Section.
If early reaction is any indication, those rivalries will die hard.
Every league in the Stanislaus District would gain and-or lose teams starting with the 2014-15 school year under the plan, but no leagues face more radical change than the Modesto Metro and Central California conferences. They include public high schools in Modesto, Turlock, Atwater and Merced.
The new MMC would include Oakdale, Atwater and Buhach Colony, along with current members Beyer, Davis, Downey and Johansen, with Merced's El Capitan added upon starting varsity sports in 2015 or 2016. The schools would compete at the Division 2 level in the playoffs for most sports, with football continuing its own playoff format.
The new CCC would be considered a Division 1 conference and would absorb Enochs, Gregori and Modesto from the MMC to join current members Golden Valley, Merced, Pitman and Turlock. It would add Modesto Christian for basketball only. All other Modesto Christian sports would move down from the Trans-Valley League to the Southern League.
Modesto and Downey, the city's two oldest high schools, would be in different leagues for the first time, as would historic rivals Oakdale and Sonora.
"There are so many reasons for us to stay together," said Pam Able, Modesto City Schools superintendent. "There are equity issues, financial issues, and we think we have a good thing going right now. I'm listening to our athletic directors and my coaches, who really believe it's in the better interest of our kids to keep the MMC together."
Other significant moves include Sonora's drop from the Valley Oak League to the Mother Lode League, a switch Sonora has sought for several years but one that has been blocked by the rest of the MLL.
Final vote in April
The committee will meet several more times, seeking input and possible changes to the plan from schools and the general public before recommending a plan to the section's board of managers for a final vote, targeted for April 24.
At the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 29, the committee will begin hearing the formal responses and possible counterproposals from the leagues.
The section shuffles league membership every four years, using projected enrollment and recent competitive success as primary criteria.
In past realignments, very few changes were made between the unveiling of the plan and ratification. However, a section official said Tuesday that this particular cycle could see an unusual amount of resistance to the proposal, particularly from the southern half of the section. The Sac-Joaquin Section includes about 180 schools and stretches from Merced to east of Sacramento and then west to the Vacaville and Napa areas.
Because the details of the realignment proposal have been but rumors until Tuesday, committee members, coaches and school officials could do little but offer instant reactions to the shuffling after seeing the plan for the first time.
"As a member of the committee, this is the first I'm seeing this proposal," said former Davis High Principal Chuck Edmonds, who is a nonvoting co-chairman of the realignment committee and commissioner of the MMC.
Later, during public comment, Edmonds said he anticipated some resistance from Modesto schools and said he plans to enter into discussions with administrators from the CCC and Oakdale to ensure that any movement between leagues addresses the concerns of all involved.
Modesto City Schools administrators did not hesitate to quickly denounce any effort to separate their schools.
"We have a real tradition and a history of competing against each other," said Mike Coats, who in his role of director of educational services oversees athletics. "For our schools, staying together creates equity with opportunities for all our kids. There also is the financial matter. Our average travel per contest right now is eight miles. This changes that average to 24 miles. And the size of the crowds would be a factor because the gates would decrease."
Sad, mixed feelings
As word of the proposal wafted through the corridors of MMC schools, reaction was quick and negative.
"It makes me a little sad," said Downey football coach Jeremy Plaa. "I think it's a sad day for our school district. I have a lot of mixed feelings. I like the league we're in. There is a convenience to it. I would have liked the enrollment to be more equal so we could play each other."
Modesto City Schools is formulating a way to draw new boundaries that would eliminate much of the district's inherent enrollment disparities. Today, Modesto High has 2,470 students and Davis 1,289.
"You're talking about increasing transportation costs during an economic crisis," said Mike Cantwell, wrestling coach at Gregori High in Salida. "You're getting rid of natural rivalries like separating Davis and Modesto. I don't think the (section) cares about our travel costs."
The cost of transporting teams to and from games also was cited by Merced athletic director Scott Winton as one of the reasons he's against the proposal.
"The obvious issue is how this is going to affect the bottom line as it pertains to our transportation budget," he said. "It doesn't make sense or cents to drive 43 miles past two schools in Atwater with similar enrollments for a league game in north Modesto."
Oakdale athletic director Dave Bacigalupi cited tradition as a major reason for wanting to keep the Mustangs in the Valley Oak League.
"We've been in the VOL for more than 70 years," he said. "With all due respect to the MMC, we have no interest in joining them."
The second part of Oakdale's move to the MMC would be a promotion from Division 3 to Division 2, which Bacigalupi also rejects.
"Putting us in Division 2 isn't fair to us," he said. "We've worked our butts off to be good, and now we're being punished for being good. We have been successful in most sports, and it doesn't seem fair to us that we're being put in a bigger division because of that success."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini and Merced Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. You can find his blog at thiehive.modbee.com/thurman.
Below is a list of the current and proposed alignments and a map of the Sac-Joaquin Section proposed league alignment.
PROPOSED LEAGUE ALIGNMENT FOR 2014-2018
Central California Conference (Blue pins)
Level: Division 1
CURRENT: Atwater, Buhach Colony, Golden Valley, Merced, Pitman, Turlock
PROPOSED: Enochs, Golden Valley, Gregori, Merced, Modesto, Pitman, Turlock, Modesto Christian (for basketball only.)
Modesto Metro Conference (Red pins)
Level: Division 2
CURRENT: Beyer, Davis, Downey, Enochs, Gregori, Johansen, Modesto
PROPOSED: Atwater, Buhach Colony, Beyer, Davis, Downey, El Capitan, Johansen, Oakdale
Valley Oak League (Green pins)
Level: Division 3
CURRENT: East Union, Kimball, Lathrop, Manteca, Oakdale, Sierra, Sonora, Weston Ranch.
PROPOSED: Central Valley, East Union, Kimball, Manteca, Patterson, Sierra
Western Athletic Conference (Light blue pins)
Level: Division 4
CURRENT: Central Catholic, Central Valley, Ceres, Livingston, Los Banos, Patterson, Pacheco.
PROPOSED: Central Catholic, Ceres, Lathrop, Livingston, Los Banos, Pacheco, Weston Ranch.
Trans-Valley League (Yellow pins)
Level: Division 5
CURRENT: Escalon, Hilmar, Hughson, Modesto Christian, Orestimba, Ripon, Riverbank.
PROPOSED: Escalon, Hilmar, Hughson, Orestimba, Ripon, Riverbank, Mountain House.
Mother Lode League (Purple pins)
Level: Division 5
CURRENT: Amador, Argonaut, Bret Harte, Calaveras, Linden, Summerville.
PROPOSED: Amador, Argonaut, Bret Harte, Calaveras, Linden, Sonora, Summerville.
Southern League (Magenta pins)
Level: Division 6
CURRENT: Delhi, Denair, Gustine, Le Grand, Mariposa, Ripon Christian, Turlock Christian*, Waterford.
PROPOSED: Delhi, Denair, Gustine, Le Grand, Mariposa, Modesto Christian (for all sports except basketball,) Ripon Christian, Waterford.
* Turlock Christian moves to the Division 7 Central California Athletic Alliance.
PROPOSED REALIGNMENT MAP
MMC (Red), CCC (Blue), VOL (Green), WAC (Light Blue), TVL (Yellow), MLL (Purple), SL (Magenta)
View Proposed Sac-Joaquin Section Realignment in a larger map