Sports have been a big part of my life.
I first competed around the age of 7 in a rec track meet put on by the 20-30 Club in Eureka. I vaguely remember doing the standing broad jump and getting my fingers pinched by a shot put. My last organized competition was in Manteca a number of years ago as a goalie for an adult rec soccer team. (Yes, I did play that sport – once.)
And there was a lot of happiness and heartache in between. One thing sports teach — or is supposed to teach — is that hard work is rewarded. The better seed in a tournament. The better lane in a race. Home-field advantage in the playoffs. (The most recent World Series aside.)
That’s how it is supposed to work. Just do not tell that to the Ripon Christian volleyball team.
Seeded No. 3, the Knights just won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V volleyball championship and they did so in dramatic fashion.
In their semifinal tilt on the road with No. 2 Le Grand, Ripon Christian found itself on the brink of elimination in the fourth set in as hostile an environment as the Knights have played in a while. They fought match point off five times before winning the nail-biting game 34-32 and forcing a fifth set in which they eked out a 15-13 win and a berth in the section championship.
As the top seed, Colfax was given preference for the championship venue so the contest was held at Natomas High in Sacramento on Saturday. Ripon Christian took care of the Falcons in short order, bringing home the blue banner and waiting for the CIF State pairings on Sunday like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.
And what did Ripon Christian get in its stocking? A big fat lump of coal.
Thanks to a badly-implemented competitive-equity playoff model, the Knights not only did not get to host, they got bumped up to Division IV and dispatched to Mill Valley to face Tamalpais High — a school nearly twice the size of Ripon Christian. Unfortunately, the Knights dropped three in a row and their season came crashing to an end.
Meanwhile, Christmas came early for Le Grand and Colfax.
Both got to stay in Division V, both got to host their state-tournament openers and both won. And Colfax even gets to host the next round!
I understand the premise behind competitive equity, but as with anything well-intentioned, there can be unintended consequences.
There are some schools that have turned competition into an afterthought. They field veritable regional all-star teams against schools comprised of local athletes, and the outcome is often predictable.
The Sac-Joaquin Section’s remedy for that is “continued success.” If a team continues to win in the postseason, it continues to move up from one division to the next.
While a private school not restricted by attendance boundaries, Ripon Christian’s athletes are mostly home-grown from its own elementary school. The Knights play by the rules, even when the rules do not exist.
The CIF needs to re-examine its competitive-equity theory in basketball and volleyball. There is no way teams that place second, third or fourth in their section should host a state playoff game while their champion gets sent up a division and on a grueling road trip.
There is enough that happens to us every day to reinforce that life is not fair, but there is no need to punish someone for doing the right thing.