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From Acorn grows sportsmanship & competitiveness
woodward acorn
This year’s Woodward boys basketball team that participated in the Acorn League.

The Acorn League has stepped up its game.

The Manteca Unified intradistrict after school sports program with  various leagues serving fourth through eighth graders instituted  changes after the pandemic to improve the overall experience.

As an example, it was decided to require basketball officials to be part of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) referee pool that officiate high school basketball games.

The move was designed to assure that officials were well uniformly schooled in the rules — CIF referees and trained and tested in high school basketball rules.

As such it addressed a number of goals and concerns.

*The district wanted the Acorn League to be more of a true learning experience of what high school level sports are like.

*It wanted to double down on the importance of students learning and following the rules and being able to do so in contests where game officials are well versed in them.

*It also eliminates issues of securing qualified referees and avoids situations where paid volunteers may struggle to control situations.

To make that happen, the girls and boys basketball leagues — that just wrapped up the 2023 season with the completion of playoffs — were moved to the fall before the first tip-off of high school basketball starts in the later part of November.

The fall schedule allows the Acorn League to draw on the available pool of CIF officials that haven’t started accepting high school game assignments for the season.

The district also established a paid league commissioner position that is filled by East Union High tech support worker Chris Graham.

Graham — like coaches — receives a set stipend for his effort.

Many of the coaches are from existing district staff others are from general community. All are required to pass background checks.

The changes reflect the district’s commitment to keep finding ways to improve the Acorn League experience — as well as the “life lessons” — it can deliver for students since taking back direct control in 2016 after the program was farmed out to a non-profit during budget cuts.

The six-year stretch as an outsourced program, kept Acorn League sports alive during the school funding crisis in the earlier part of the last decade. But it did so at a cost.

That cost  was the requirement for the non- profit — Manteca Unified Student Trust — to charge students fees to play given there was no district funding.

As a result, player numbers dropped.

It also created a sense that the district was creating barriers on elementary school campuses given in the 40 plus years that  the Acorn League had been in place, there never was a cost attached that would prohibit a student from participating due to their family’s financial inability pay for it.

So far this year, the Acorn League is enjoying a resurgence.

Participation is up significantly over last year after play was suspended due to the pandemic.

The Acorn League offers volleyball and basketball for sixth through eighth graders.

There are also two age divisions of play for indoor soccer and volleyball — fourth through sixth grade and seventh through eighth grade.

In an average year, there are between 480 and 560 MUSD students participating in basket and roughly the same amount for volleyball.

The Acorn League serves to help students develop “life skills” given their teammates aren’t necessarily classmates and their opponents are likely strangers.

As such they need to learn to work together for a common goal — winning — and to do so by following established rules and expected standards of behavior,

It essentially reinforces the ”soft skills” such as team work, responsibility, punctuality, commitment, and dependability that are part of the overall classroom effort in addition to academics.

Manteca Unified’s Acorn League involves all of the district’s elementary schools.

The developmental style sports program in which students learn the fundamentals of the sport, rules and sportsmanship is not a universal offering in California school districts including in the Northern San Joaquín Valley.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email