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San Gabriel Valley League and Suburban League Merge to Form New Conference

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By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

June 8, 2022 ~ When the school year begins in August, there will be a slightly fresh look for the athletic programs of Gahr, La Mirada and Norwalk high schools, plus eight other schools. The six-member San Gabriel Valley League and the five schools of the Suburban League will merge to form the new Suburban Valley Conference.

The conference will be divided into two leagues believed to be called the Gateway League and Mid-Cities League. However, no confirmation on the name of the two leagues has been determined as of early June. In fact, when the master conference schedule was released, the 11 schools were placed in their respective leagues on a sport by sport basis based on CIF-Southern Section power rankings from the 2021-2022 school year and were placed in either the Upper League or Lower League. After the 2022-2023 school year, Norwalk co-athletic director David Snyder says ‘everything will be taken into account’ as to which leagues the 11 schools will be placed, again on a sport-by-sport basis.

Talks of the merger have been going on for the past two and a half to three years, according to Snyder, and stemmed from the departure of Artesia, Cerritos and John Glenn high schools when those schools formed the 605 League at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. That left the Suburban League initially with four schools-Bellflower, La Mirada, Mayfair and Norwalk high schools. Later, Firebaugh High would join in some sports.

He said that the athletic directors of Bellflower and Mayfair began to contact the athletic directors of the SGVL before the pandemic shutdown in the spring of 2020 to discuss a possibility of a merger.

“My principal went to the first principal’s meeting, and it was during Covid; we met over at Warren High School,” said Snyder. “The principals were introduced to the idea of the conference and that’s when [Norwalk principal] Dr. [David] Olea had told me we were going to go another way.”

Snyder said he and former Norwalk principal Mike Garcia, who preceded Olea, had gone to the 605 League to discuss admittance because he thought Norwalk was invited into that league, which would make it a seven-member unit along with Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney High. However, the 605 League changed its mind and last year, a vote was taken via zoom through the Foothill Area, which is made up of seven CIF-SS leagues.

To avoid going directly into the SGVL, Snyder said Norwalk put a measure up that would have landed the school into the 605 League. However, the league was, as Snyder put it, ‘very effective’ into blocking the proposal, claiming that Norwalk was going to dominate the 605 League.

A vote was taken just like the one that was taken when the 605 League was formed and was put forth by California High athletic director Armando Padilla. Once Norwalk was denied admittance to the 605 League, the vote for the two leagues to merge was passed almost unanimously. The two votes took place within minutes of each other.

“Everybody voted against us going into the 605 League, including our own schools and the San Gabriel Valley [League] schools,” said Snyder. “There are still a lot of hard feelings over that.”

Once the 605 League was formed, the SGVL and Suburban League began discussing a possible merger in the future. But in Norwalk’s case, according to Snyder, talks of merging the two leagues were discussed before talks of possibly joining the 605 League. He added that he just wants his kids to have a fair opportunity.

For Gahr to get somewhat out of the SGVL for football purposes is a blessing for co-athletic director and head football coach Greg Marshall. Since he arrived on the campus over two decades ago, he was wanted to leave the SGVL and join the Suburban League, citing his program can’t put up the numbers of the other SGVL teams. In fact, the football program went to freelance status from 2002-2005. Marshall took over the program in 2003.

“I feel like we’ve got a shot, because it’s not like a normal year for Gahr,” said Marshall. “We have ineligible players [and] we have kids that move. We can compete in the SGVL versus top teams like Downey and Warren…in normal years. We can compete in the SGVL if everything goes perfect, like when we have the top passer in the state or stuff like that.”

Since coming back to the SGVL from freelance status, the program has had five winning league seasons, going to the playoffs four times and losing a tiebreaker on a coin flip the other season.

When the football season begins, the Upper League will consist of Dominguez High, Downey, La Mirada, Mayfair, Paramount High and Warren while the Lower League will field Bellflower, Firebaugh, Gahr, Lynwood High and Norwalk. Each year, teams could flip-flop leagues or stay where they are. For girls volleyball in the fall, the Upper League will have Downey, Gahr, Mayfair, Paramount and Warren, which have all been consistently dominant in their respective leagues. When the boys basketball season begins, Gahr will be in the Lower League, but that could be short-lived considering that the Gladiators have been historically a dominant program with very few sub-par seasons. Then when the 2023 spring season arrives, Gahr and La Mirada baseball will be new league rivals and play three times, scheduled for Mar. 28 at La Mirada, Mar. 30 at Gahr and Apr. 28 at La Mirada. Those two schools will also be in the Upper League for boys cross country and softball and will be Lower League rivals in girls basketball, boys soccer and wrestling.

“Gahr and La Mirada are probably the two best baseball schools in our old [leagues],” said Snyder. “So, they are in the upper [league] and I don’t see that ever changing.”

While Marshall likes the new conference, he said one problem comes from the CIF-SS because when the SGVL was around, you would get points, or rewarded for playing upper division schools and the other five SGVL schools are upper division schools. As a result, when the end of the year arrives, Gahr is rated higher that what it really is.

For Gahr boys basketball, up until the past several seasons, it has been in the higher CIF-SS divisions. For the first season of the Suburban Valley Conference, the Gladiators will be in the Lower League with Bellflower, Firebaugh, Lynwood, Norwalk and Warren.

“We’re going to be playing four schools that are below [Division] 3, I think,” said Marshall. “So, our division record for playoffs will drop. That’s the issue.”

The Norwalk programs that would benefit from the merger, according to Snyder, are football, baseball, boys and girls basketball and almost every other sport. However, he admitted one of the programs that may not benefit from the merger immediately will be boys soccer, which has been one of the elite programs in the Suburban League for at least the past 25 years. Now, the Lancers will be grouped in with the predominant powers from the SGVL-Downey, Lynwood, Paramount and Warren, schools that have enrollments of over 2,000. Since the 1998-1999 season, the Lancers boys soccer program has finished in the top three of the league 17 times, winning the league nine times. However, the program has defeated their new league rivals in the past, which should make for a competitive run for the top spot.

“A lot of Norwalk people; coaches [and] administrators, were against this merger,” said Snyder. “I’ve been for this merger from the very beginning because I saw it as a means to further certain programs that have been stuck playing Mayfair and La Mirada, specifically football, baseball and to a lesser extent, softball and our girls soccer team.

“So now, those teams have an opportunity to make the playoffs,” he continued. “And that’s going to help the teams gain momentum. People are going to see they’re making the playoffs, and then we’re going to get more girls that want to join [athletics], more boys that want to join [athletics].”

It’s slightly different at Gahr where most of the programs had been middle of the road programs, as Marshall says. The Gladiators were never at the bottom in their athletics. They would finish anywhere from second through fourth or fifth with a few league champions here and there. With that said, boys and girls basketball and boys and girls soccer would benefit from the merger, according to Marshall. That means the Gladiators would have a stronger chance of making the playoffs next season as opposed to if the merger never took place.

“This is the beauty of the conference; La Mirada wanted to go up because that’s who they are,” said Marshall. “Gahr baseball will never…even when we have the worst year, we will probably be okay with being in the bottom group.

Snyder wanted to add that with the merger coming in August, Norwalk had an unprecedented year as far as playoff appearances and he is looking forward to seeing the same in the upcoming years.

“I’m kind of excited about it and I’m excited for the kids,” he said. “Norwalk has all these beautiful facilities and we got to host a [softball playoff game]. I’m excited to see the kids’ faces and we have a lot of kids, parents and teachers showing up to our home playoff games. I look forward to seeing all that.”







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