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Spartans looking ahead

Lathrop High athletic program moves forward after rough year

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Spartans looking ahead

Football head coach Jesse Rodriguez, from left, principal David Chamberlain and athletic director Bill Slikker scope out the new weight room at Lathrop High just weeks before Manteca Unified's newe...

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED June 3, 2009 2:37 a.m.
Lathrop High’s athletic program has survived a tough first year, and Bill Slikker believes that it’s on track to thrive for years to come.

The athletic director of Manteca Unified’s fifth high school had to deal with everything in his rookie season — lack of transportation, on-campus practice/playing fields and turnout; academic ineligibility issues; talks of the school shutting down and a struggling economy that could claim a few coaches.

But with construction of the campus’ athletic facilities nearing 100 percent completion, the establishment of a boosters club and growing support from the community, the Spartans are ready to bloom as a full-fledged varsity program.

“There were bumps on the road, but that’s to be expected with new schools,” Slikker said. “Now it’s just a matter of tying up loose ends here and there. I think we should be ready to go by next year.”

Slikker, who was previously the varsity boys head basketball coach at Weston Ranch, had little time to get his feet wet as the school opened last August.

The gymnasium wasn’t ready for the volleyball team. Football and soccer fields weren’t either. So Slikker had to find off-campus sites for some to practice, while others trained in the school’s quad area.

In mid-September, the sophomore team disbanded after 22 of its 26 players were deemed academically ineligible. The freshman team joined the remaining members to form a frosh-soph squad, which played a predominantly sophomore schedule.

The girls golf team was another casualty in the fall, as it was cut due to low turnout. In the spring, the swimming team, with no pool of its own, worked out and competed alongside neighboring Weston Ranch High.

Such problems will unlikely arise next year.

Two baseball and two softball fields are done and were in use this past spring season. The swimming pool is complete, as are the dirt track, scoreboard on the football field.

All that’s left is the football stadium, which Slikker said should be ready come August. Bleachers and lights have yet to be installed, and the snack bar is in progress.

Weston Ranch, which opened in 2003, didn’t have its football stadium ready until it had four full classes. And it took years for East Union and Sierra to get theirs.

“We’ve had to make it work, but it could have been worse,” Slikker said. “We’re very fortunate to be able to get a stadium next year.

“Let’s be honest, football is what drives revenue in high school sports. And with us having a varsity team next year, we’ll be able to bring in more money. It will be very beneficial to us, but most importantly we have a place to call home.”

The Spartans program has taken another big step in establishing a boosters club, presided by Lathrop fire chief Gene Neely.
“Our boosters club is low in numbers but it’s strong,” Slikker said. “We’ve had a few fund-raiser events, like a golf tournament, and we plan on having things like dinner dances. I don’t know how much we’ve raised yet, but we have some good things going on there.”

While most teams at Lathrop High struggled in terms of wins and losses, the bright spots were many. The football team overcame the tumultuous start and finished 5-5 — a respectable record for a team of mostly freshman clashing with sophomores.

What impresses Slikker the most, however, are the improvements made by student-athletes in the classroom along with the continued dedication of his coaching staff despite the current budget crisis.

“With the talks of Lathrop High being shut down because of the budget cuts and all the people getting laid off, morale hasn’t been very high at our school,” Slikker said. “Coaches are coming back next year with some uncertainty, but I applaud them because they have the kids’ interest in mind first.”

All of Lathrop’s teams will remain in the Valley Oak League next year except for football. That would make it a nine-team conference at all levels, and there will inevitably be three-game weeks in some sports. The football team will play an independent schedule.

In 2010-11, the Sac-Joaquin Section will realign, which would again make the VOL an eight-team league with Central Valley and Ceres leaving for the Western Athletic Conference and Kimball of Tracy moving in.

“To be realistic, we’ll likely continue to take our lumps with a lot of sophomores and no seniors playing varsity next year,” Slikker said. “There’s going to be a big learning curve for everybody, but we’re excited. I see a lot of good signs going into next year.”
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