The Valley Oak League does not want Central Catholic.
Central Catholic does not want to leave the Western Athletic Conference.
As it stands, Central Catholic is in line to return to the VOL starting in 2014. The Sac-Joaquin Section’s realignment committee voted 7-2 in favor of the Modesto-based football powerhouse in Tuesday’s public meeting held at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton.
While nothing is set in stone for the next realignment cycle, VOL commissioner Norm Antinetti said “it looks like we’ll be saddled” with Central Catholic. The last of four realignment meetings is set for March 12, giving schools and leagues one last chance to voice their concerns and make final proposals. An “if necessary” meeting is scheduled for April 9.
A Livingston High administrator broached the idea of moving Central Catholic out of the WAC near the end of the Jan. 29 meeting. The section’s committee voted it down, 5-4. The majority of WAC schools, including Central Catholic, were against it by a 4-3 count.
Livingston again pushed the issue in Tuesday’s session and, for the moment, appears to have its wish granted with the section’s surprising change of heart.
“I think the league isn’t really enthralled with having Central Catholic,” said Antinetti, who added that CC was a VOL member for one four-year cycle in the mid 1980s.
“We’re not shying away from competition, because I think the VOL can be competitive with Central Catholic, but one worry we have is that their attendance area is unlimited.”
Unlike public schools, private schools are not limited by enrollment boundaries, so it’s not uncommon for a school like Central to have its standout athletes hail from other cities or transfer in from public institutions.
That is already an issue with Manteca Unified schools East Union, Manteca, Sierra, Lathrop and Weston Ranch, with each school losing students to St. Mary’s in Stockton and Modesto Christian in Salida — two parochial establishments touted for their athletics.
“That’s always a concern for a public school educator and coach,” said Weston Ranch athletic director and head wrestling coach Pat King. “Unfortunately, that’s the world of high school athletics. We haven’t had a private school in the VOL, but in Weston Ranch we deal with it quite often with athletes going to St. Mary’s and Modesto Christian.”
King, however, welcomes Central Catholic. While Weston Ranch is strong in the winter sports — boys and girls basketball, wrestling — it has struggled to compete across the board in the fall and spring. That matters little to him.
“Everybody’s got to pick up their game a little bit,” King said.
Oakdale High football coach Trent Merzon is in agreement. With Oakdale’s longtime rival, Sonora, leaving for the Mother Lode League, Central Catholic could help his Mustangs fill that void.
Merzon has led Oakdale to six straight VOL championships and nine in the last 11 years, and they are the reigning SJS Division III titlist. Central Catholic owns the most section football titles with 16 in 18 final-game appearances and earned the California Interscholastic Federation Division IV State Bowl championship this past fall.
“It’s interesting,” Merzon said. “It definitely makes our league better. Personally, I welcome it. They play in a different division than we do in the playoffs anyway, and facing them just makes our qualifiers better for the playoffs.
“Aside from Oakdale-Central Catholic, I’d love to see Central Catholic-Manteca and Central Catholic-Sierra. I say let’s get them in. I’m all for super conferences.”
Central Catholic has its own reservations about the proposal. Enrollment in the VOL ranges from 1,116 (Lathrop) to 2,080 (Kimball), but Central Catholic’s student population is at 389. While the Raiders have their niche in football, boys basketball and baseball, they have trouble fielding teams in many of the smaller sports.
“I have mixed emotions,” Central Catholic athletic director Billy Hylla said. “As a football coach I’m excited, and I’m excited that our basketball and baseball teams would also get a chance to play at a higher level.
“But looking at the scope of our program we have concerns. Our wrestling team could not fill four weight classes in our league meet. We have 14 girls in our entire softball program. Our girls water polo team only had seven players, so we had no subs. We haven’t had JV boys soccer teams the last two years and we have a 15 total swimmers.
“For certain sports when it comes down to numbers we’re going to struggle.”
Central Catholic’s lack of depth and inability to fill enough teams at all levels is what’s most worrisome to Sierra A.D. Anthony Chapman.
“That creates problems for scheduling,” Chapman said. “It gives the league an uneven number of teams for some sports, and that hurts the programs that do have lower-level teams. We want someone who can field all of their teams.”
Including Central Catholic does have its advantages for the VOL.
“It gives us an eight-team league, which is perfect for scheduling,” Antinetti said. “Central Catholic has a good following because of its tradition in sports, so gate receipts should be good. From that standpoint it’s a pretty good replacement for Sonora.”
It also deepens the VOL’s already-stacked talent pool in sports like boys basketball, baseball, softball and girls soccer.
Still, Antinetti said the VOL may still fight to prevent the move from happening in the next meeting, adding he will have a discussion with the athletic directors beforehand. Hylla plans on doing the same with coaches and administrators at Central Catholic.
“I think a school like Grace Davis (Modesto) or Patterson would be a better fit,” Antinetti said. “At this point it looks like we’re going to have Central Catholic, and if that’s the case we’re going to have to make the best of it. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try.”