Prep, Rio Hondo leagues remain unchanged after latest appeal

LOS ALAMITOS — For the time being, there is no change for the Prep and Rio Hondo leagues in regards to football.

Both leagues sent their respective coaches, representatives and presidents to Wednesday morning's Playoff Groupings Appeal Hearings at the CIF Southern Section offices hoping to amend their placement within new divisions starting in the fall.

By a unanimous vote, the Prep League, home of Flintridge Prep, will move from the Northeast Division (XIII) to the Northwest Division (X), while the plight of the Rio Hondo League, which includes member La Cañada, is down to a final appeal before the league vacates the Mid-Valley Division (Division XI) for the Central Division (V).

The vote to deny the Prep League's appeal to remain in the Northeast Division, now known as the East Valley Division, was 9-0, while the Rio Hondo League had a 7-0 vote against an appeal to stay in the Mid-Valley with two abstentions.

"It's a tough decision from our perspective because the whole league goes with Rio Hondo Prep," Flintridge Prep athletic director Garrett Ohara said. "We understand their historic success, but we were obviously hoping we wouldn't be moved up, especially from a safety standpoint. We barely field a team, but we'll have to get better."

The Prep League began with the first appeal as league president Melanie Horn, athletic director at Westridge School, handed out a double-sided, two-page letter written to Rob Wigod, the Southern Section commissioner.

Horn was part of delegation made up of Pasadena Poly football coach Chris Schmoke and athletic directors Ken Drain of Rio Hondo Prep and Steven Beerman of Poly.

Horn detailed reasons as to why the Prep League should not be moved up, including school enrollment size, competitive equity and safety concerns.

Those issues were further explained by Schmoke, who noted that under the Prep League's old configuration, the league averaged an enrollment of 314 and would have two schools (Flintridge Prep and Chadwick) that aren't planning on fielding junior varsity teams in the fall.

That would make the Prep League the smallest on average in the Northwest Division, which consists of the De Anza (1,305 average enrollment), Northern (1,100), Del Rey (640), Olympic (561) and Ambassador (370) leagues.

The counter to that argument, however, is the admission of 1,900-student Firebaugh to the Prep League in 2014, which is taking the place of Webb, and puts the new Prep League at a 649-student average.

The Prep League made three proposals, the first being that the league should swap places with the Santa Fe League, which lost powerhouse Salesian and is moving down the East Valley Division, which is replacing the Northeast Division.

The second idea was to switch places with the Ambassador League, which had success due to St. Margaret's, while the third idea was to solely move down the Prep League without any league taking its place in the Northwest Division.

Glenn Martinez, assistant commissioner in charge of football grouping, noted that the first proposal wasn't doable because the Northwest Division already included the Del Rey League, the third of four leagues within the Catholic Athletic Association, and that two leagues from the same conference shouldn't reside in the same division.

As for the second and third proposals, Martinez didn't believe either was realistic.

"There's a ripple effect when you talk about changes," Martinez said. "It's not as simple as move this league here, move this league here. It has a whole dynamic when you starting looking at that as one of the suggestions."

Martinez added that one of the challenges was trying to find a home for new leagues as the Southern Section has expanded from 64 to 69 leagues, which includes more six-league divisions than ever before.

Martinez did acknowledge that at times one school could carry a league, in reference to the postseason success of Rio Hondo Prep, which has posted a 6-2 playoff record the last two years with a Northeast Division title in 2012.

Perhaps the Prep League's biggest hurdle was convincing a nine-member panel that included only one private school voter (Chris O'Donnell of Loyola) and only one school voter with an enrollment under 1,000 (Chris Calderwood of Rancho Mirage).

While Calderwood motioned that the appeal should be voted on and Monrovia's Darvin Jackson seconded, the vote was a resounding 9-0 denial.

"It's a fair process," Horn said. "I appreciate CIF making time to meet with everyone who had an appeal. Of course, when you don't win your appeal, then it's not a great a feeling.

"I know Rio Hondo Prep has had its success and we're proud of that. We're going to do our best in the new division."

Horn said she had spoken with the league's athletic directors and they indicated they would not make a final appeal to the CIF Southern Section Council on June 10.

As for the Rio Hondo League, the league has not made a decision whether or not it will appeal a 7-0 vote that included abstentions from Jackson and Diamond Ranch athletic director Candace Cayer.

Monrovia High athletic director Randy Bell and La Cañada High athletic director Craig Franzen represented the league and also touched on both competitive equity and safety concerns.

According to Bell's research, the Rio Hondo League's two-year state average ranking was 628 on and -6.5 on, which was worse than the Mt. Baldy (594, -1.7), Hacienda (304, 20), Sunkist (548, 20) and Palomares (259, 22.2) leagues, the other four leagues that comprise the Central Division.

Bell also noted that enrollment for Rio Hondo League schools averaged out to 1,417, well below the totals for the other four leagues, whose next closest average was the Palomares' 2,264.

As for a switch, Bell argued that the Rio Hondo League should flip with the private-school Alpha League of the Gold Coast Conference, which consists of Brentwood, Kilpatrick, Paraclete, Sierra Canyon, Viewpoint and Windward.

While the private schools are significantly smaller than the Rio Hondo League in averaging 406 students, the league has gone 8-8 the last two postseasons with deep runs from Paraclete and Sierra Canyon.

"We were looking at the Alpha League and they have just as many playoff points as we have, clearly," Franzen said. "Paraclete and Sierra Canyon have been champions and it's difficult when you have two teams in their league and one team carrying the torch in our league in Monrovia."

Even so, Martinez said that the Palomores League, which is top-ranked in the new Central Division, has only registered one playoff win the last two seasons despite its size.

Martinez further added "that there's no comparison" between the top two teams in the Rio Hondo League, Monrovia and San Marino, versus the other four league's top two teams and said, "if I'm drafting, I've got the top two right here."

While Bell did not agree, he wasn't caught off guard by the vote.

"I'm not sure I would say we're surprised," Bell said. "We knew it was difficult to make the placements. We just really struggled in terms of competitive equity within our divisions. But you have to give it to Glenn. He convinced everyone that the Rio Hondo League was the most powerful league in the division."


Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.

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