High School Sports

Davis, Johansen in a ‘lose-lose’ situation when it comes to realignment

Realignment Q&A with Joe Cortez and James Burns

Modesto Bee sports writers Joe Cortez and James Burns discuss the main questions regarding the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section realignment.
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Modesto Bee sports writers Joe Cortez and James Burns discuss the main questions regarding the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section realignment.

Athletic directors Tim Garcia of Davis High School and Scott Sacuskie of Johansen sense a cultural change in their long-suffering departments, but they also can see the writing on the wall.

Time isn’t a luxury any longer, and subtle improvements may not be enough to keep those schools in the Modesto Metro Conference.

Realignment is on the horizon, and several Stanislaus District schools could be on the move as Sac-Joaquin Section officials seek to create a competitive balance among its leagues beginning in 2018. The first realignment meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14 in Stockton during the week of the CIF State Bowl games.

The Sac-Joaquin Section will begin the realignment process with its first meeting Dec. 14 in Stockton. The section will look to create a competitive balance among its leagues, beginning in 2018.

The MMC remains a curious case.

A chasm has developed in enrollment and success among the seven Modesto City Schools programs, and in almost every case, Johansen and Davis find themselves on an island of despair. They are among the smallest schools in the Modesto City Schools district. Davis has 1,556 students and Johansen 1,775, according to the section website. They’ve been dwarfed in the athletic arena, where Downey, Beyer and Gregori have emerged as today’s titans of the MMC.

Downey has won at least a share of four consecutive football titles, and Beyer is the two-time defending baseball champion. Gregori owns four of the last five volleyball banners.

“From what I hear, it doesn’t look good for the MMC,” said Sacuskie, who takes over a football program that is 2-38 over the last four years and hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2008. “Football can change a school culture. If a school is competitive, your ticket sales go up. If your gate money is up, you have more money to pour into athletics. If you have more money to pour into athletics, more kids will tend to gravitate toward your school. Two and 38 in four years, it’s no secret where we stand at Johansen.”

I’m not sure if the section will throw us a bone and say, ‘Let’s stick it out.’ The numbers don’t lie. We just haven’t been competitive. You can’t hide that.

Tim Garcia, Davis athletic director and football coach

In the three major boys sports – football, basketball and baseball – Davis has won just 34 percent of its games with one postseason appearance since 2014, the year of the last realignment. The Spartans’ boys basketball team advanced to the Division II playoffs last winter, the final season for longtime coach Dan Pacheco.

The Modesto Bee's Joe Cortez and James Burns discuss their ideas for realignment for the Sac-Joaquin Section athletic programs.

“In a perfect world, we’d love to stay in the MMC,” said Garcia, who returned to his alma mater as an assistant in 2012 after six years as the head football coach at Central Valley. “We’ve got the athletic department going in the right direction, and we’re excited about our future.”

During that same two-year stretch, Johansen has won 22 percent of its games in the three major boys sports with no playoff appearances. In football, Sacuskie said the competitive imbalance has been apparent during the pregame walk-out.

22.3 Johansen High’s winning percentage in the three major sports (football, basketball, baseball) in the last two years.

“My players work as hard, if not harder, than the other six teams,” Sacuskie said. “It’s not fair when we show up on Friday nights with 25 players and the other team has 65 guys on their sideline. I want to stay in the MMC. It’s great for in-town rivalries. I went to Downey and know what it’s like to play against Davis. It’s a great thing, but the realignment could help us if we get into a league where teams are like us in competitiveness and school size and scope of sports. But it could hurt us, too.”

Garcia and Sacuskie were absent from an informal meeting of area commissioners and athletic directors June 14 at Turlock Junior High.

MMC commissioner Ed Felt called the meeting to gauge the interest and desires of the schools from the MMC, Central California Conference, Valley Oak League, Trans-Valley League and Western Athletic Conference.

Davis and Johansen have been linked to the WAC as possible replacements for Patterson, Central Valley, Livingston, Los Banos or Pacheco, all of which could be on the move.

Garcia and Sacuskie are torn.

Raised in the spotlight at Davis, Garcia has used his roots to reinvigorate the football program and athletic department. In 2014, the team went 5-5 and returned to Modesto Junior College for some of its home games, but last season, Davis went 2-8. Garcia believes the Spartans eventually will contend for an MMC title again, but will the section be patient with the process?

34.9Davis High’s winning percentage in the three major sports (football, basketball, baseball) in the last two years.

“I’m not sure if the section will throw us a bone and say, ‘Let’s stick it out.’ The numbers don’t lie,” Garcia said. “We just haven’t been competitive. You can’t hide that. The thing that we can do is control what we can control.

“I’m a competitive person, and I feel confident in the direction our football program is going. It really doesn’t matter what league we’re in. We’re going to coach our kids up and get them to believe in themselves. We’ll line up and play. Those are the things we can control. We can’t control enrollment or the competitive equity over the last five years.”

Success might follow Davis’ and Johansen’s move to a smaller league and lower division, but it could come with a major cost. Sacuskie said both schools might lose kids to schools still in the MMC while absorbing higher transportation costs.

“If we have to travel 45 minutes to an hour to play league games, in this day and age, I understand parents’ busy schedules,” Sacuskie said. “We could have kids transferring out.

“If I’m a kid and I know Johansen has dropped down a level, playing Division II or Division III, and I’m a thoroughbred, I’m going to stay in the MMC for the publicity and competition.”

If I’m a kid and I know Johansen has dropped down a level, playing Division II or Division III, and I’m a thoroughbred, I’m going to stay in the MMC for the publicity and competition.

Scott Sacuskie, Johansen athletic director and football coach

Garcia and Sacuskie want more time in the MMC to see talent develop; to see school initiatives, like Spartan 101, a tuition-less college head-start program at Davis, take root; to see boundary lines solidified and enforced; and to see the subtle changes grow into major moments and milestones.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what the right answer is. Do we stay or do we go?” Garcia said. “If we stay, I think we’re going in the right direction. The district has made the right moves to help us out, and our incoming freshmen are going to be good. We have the right coaches and the right kids. Like I said, we feel good about the direction we’re going in. Are we a couple of years away? I don’t know.”

“Or do we go? But that doesn’t guarantee that we will all of a sudden start winning again in multiple sports. Will kids want to come to Davis or Johansen, schools that aren’t in the big league anymore? It’s almost a lose-lose for us.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

On the Move?

A look at how the major boys sports programs at Davis and Johansen high schools have fared since the last realignment two years ago:

Davis

Football: 7-13 (no titles or playoff appearances)

Baseball: 7-42-1 (no titles or playoff appearances)

Basketball: 29-24 (no championships, one playoff appearance)

Winning percentage: .349 (43-79-1)

Johansen

Football: 1-19 (no titles or playoff appearances)

Baseball: 7-43 (no titles or playoff appearances)

Basketball: 19-32 (no titles or playoff appearances)

Winning percentage: .223 (27-94)

Note: All records according to MaxPreps.

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