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Artesia, Cerritos, John Glenn proposing to leave Suburban League to form new league with three others
By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The Suburban League could take on a different look in less than two years as three schools have been in discussions as far back as eight years ago about leaving and forming their own league.
If they get the majority vote they have been looking for, then Artesia High, Cerritos High and John Glenn High will bolt from the Suburban League after the conclusion of the 2017-2018 school year.
Sergio Garcia, Artesia’s principal for the past 12 years has been talking about competitive equity in the Suburban League for the past eight years. But initial formal discussions about leaving the league started heating up two years ago with Cerritos principal Patrick Walker and Greg Puccia, Glenn’s principal, also getting involved. Last year, the aforementioned principals really started to present, research and take a look at what the proposed new model would look like, according to Walker.
The three principals also approached Pioneer High out of the Del Rio League, which is in a similar situation and within the last month, the Del Rio League unanimously voted to release Pioneer. On top of that, the Academy League is going through its own problems and most likely will dissolve. Whitney High, a current member of the Academy League, mentioned that Oxford Academy may want to come on board. Those two schools applied to be released from the Academy League this past September and the principals of both of those schools were excited about potentially moving into the new league and expressed their interest in wanting to be regionally connected.
“But we still wanted to give the Suburban League one more shot,” Garcia said. “We knew that us leaving was going to leave them with four [schools] and they still have a league. So at the beginning of the [school] year in September, we met with the league.”
The proposed move out of the Suburban League stems in large part to the performances by most of the athletic teams of Artesia, Cerritos and Glenn. Those three schools have finished in the bottom half of the league in football since 2008 and since 2007, Artesia and/or Glenn has had less than three trips to the playoffs in girls tennis, girls volleyball, boys basketball, girls soccer, baseball, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball.
This past June, a formal meeting for a proposed conference model of two four-team leagues was voted down 4-3 and on Oct. 7, another formal meeting resulted in the same 4-3 vote against Artesia, Cerritos and Glenn leaving the Suburban League. The principals of those three schools told the league in June they would look at other options, which would include considering going independent or releaguing.
“You have a situation in football where kids are getting hurt; kids are playing teams that have 100 kids on side and teams that are having a hard time just getting enough players to compete,” Garcia said. “You have schools like John Glenn and Cerritos that have very few players sitting there. Artesia sits in the middle, but still, you have inequalities.”
“We’ve been very transparent about it in the Suburban League meetings and one thing about high school athletics is football does drive the bus,” Walker said. “Football has a huge impact on a school environment. It is the number one revenue draw for the athletic department and it sets the tone for the year. It is something that here in America, it is our highest profile sport.”
Since 2007, La Mirada High has won seven league titles in football while Mayfair High has won three and Norwalk High one. In 2011, Bellflower High, La Mirada and Mayfair were tri-champions. On the other side of the spectrum, Cerritos and Glenn have combined for 15 league wins over the past 10 seasons.
There was some hope of a possible resolution which would call for a swap between Pioneer and La Mirada. However, the Del Rio League didn’t want La Mirada to be a member.
“We knew Pioneer was going to be released by [the] Del Rio [League],” Walker said. “So they were interested and that would give us the eighth team. We were looking at this conference model of two four-team divisions, modeling what CIF is doing all about equity. So it would be a power ranking system that would fluctuate every two years depending on how teams were doing.”
La Mirada has been the Suburban League’s most consistent powerhouse across the board over the past 10 years, claiming seven league titles in baseball, four in softball, three in boys basketball, three in girls volleyball and one in boys soccer. In addition, its girls soccer team has won over 90 percent of its league games.
“It’s never right for kids when a team gets beat up in a football game 70-14 or 70-7,” Garcia said. “That doesn’t help any of the programs. Destroying a program is never healthy.”
The irony to that is before Garcia became principal, Artesia would dominate in boys basketball, blowing out league opponents by well over 40 points on many occasions. Because of that, Garcia recalls his first league meeting with the other principals.
“As I walked into the Suburban League meeting, before my butt even hit the chair, La Mirada [personnel] started yelling at me about the fact that my basketball team dominated the league and how unfair that was and that we were doing illegal recruiting,” Garcia said. “I didn’t even get to introduce myself. That was unfair. That was my introduction to the Suburban League. They wanted to know what I was going about making things equitable.”
Garcia and Walker said they previously talked to Villa Park High athletic director Tom Fox about putting together a conference model for the Suburban League. Fox was instrumental in putting together the Century League conference model. Four years prior to talking to Fox, Artesia, Cerritos and Glenn looked at the South Bay conference model. They talked about creating a conference where you could have “conference A and conference B”.
“What ended up really happening is the haves decided that that wasn’t okay; it was too complicated,” Garcia said. “High school sports should be about creating character.”
The haves that Garcia is referring to would be Bellflower, La Mirada, Mayfair and Norwalk. On Dec. 9, Garcia put together a letter that was sent out to every principal of the Foothill area schools indicating of their desire to leave the Suburban, plus Pioneer leaving the Del Rio League and Oxford Academy and Whitney bolting from the Academy League.
“It is our goal to inform you that this move is truly in the best interest of all of our schools and students,” Garcia said in the letter. “We feel that creating a league for our schools is vital to our ability to provide a positive athletic experience for all of our students.”
As far as the immediate future, Garcia and Walker said the principals would go to every league meeting within the Foothill area to plead their case to “divide and conquer”, as Walker put it. On Mar. 1, 2017, the area placement will be finalized and at that time, following a big meeting at Hart High where a bigger vote will take place, the schools will learn if they will be going into the new unnamed league. By June 15, the CIF-SS must have a releague plan in place and two months later, any appeals for league placement are due to the CIF-SS. Then in October of next year, there will be a council meeting where appeals will be heard. On the last day of November, current and/or new leagues will be released with approval set for January, 2018.
“There are some sports that we’re real strong in, like tennis and aquatics,” Walker said. “But once again, as far as Cerritos was concerned, being on the winning end in dominant ways is a detriment to your program and isn’t valuable for kids. We don’t enjoy destroying teams either in tennis and/or out in the pool just for the sake of winning. We would rather have competitive equity, even on the winning end.”
Garcia said that he and other principals looked at data from every single sport and will share that when they go to future meetings. Similar data was also retrieved from Pioneer High and the Academy League as well.
“High school sports should be about building character,” Garcia said. “It should be about teaching kids about the whole thing that CIF talks about, ‘Victory with Honor’. And there’s a whole thing there that a lot of people are forgetting in high school and we need to bring that back.”
Garcia and Walker are positive that the proposal they have been working on will succeed and added that it’s really hard to argue about doing what’s fair for the students. If this passes, the Suburban League would still survive with four teams, which is the minimum that CIF requires to form a league.
The last time there was a change in the Suburban League in terms of a school entering or leaving, Cabrillo High became an eighth team for football only from 1999-2002. At that time, Cabrillo had just become a new school. Before that, Cerritos moved from the Mission Valley League to the Suburban League for the beginning of the 1998-1999 school year.
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