North and South : The Sports Confederacy Known as CIF Has Its Own Geographic Fault Lines

Times Staff Writer

There's a simple quality to life in this Northern California community on the north shore of Lake Almanor near the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's an attitude that plays a large part in nearly everything the townspeople do.

Here on the banks of the north fork of the Feather River, Darold Adamson uses that simple approach as the new commissioner of the Northern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for the state's high school athletic programs.

Like other commissioners in Northern California, Adamson favors a decentralized commissioner's office that allows the athletic administrations of individual leagues more power in making decisions that directly affect them.

That philosophy goes with the territory, since a majority of the schools, like most of the communities here in the northern part of the state, are separated by hundreds of miles of rugged terrain and hours and hours of travel time.

Avoiding Complication

"Up here we want everything as uncomplicated as possible," Adamson said.

Five hundred miles to the south, Stan Thomas should have it so easy. Like Adamson, he recently became a CIF commissioner, but of the state's largest region, the Southern Section, which encompasses the largest urban area in the state.

Through the direction of five previous, strong-willed top administrators, the Southern Section places much of its decision-making process in the hands of the commissioner. With nearly 500 schools, it has been called "almost a state in ourselves" by outgoing Commissioner Ray Plutko.

The development of the CIF--and its management--is unique to the nation.

"There is no other state like California," said Brice Durbin, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Assns.

Since its founding in 1914 in a Los Angeles YMCA, the CIF has grown to encompass 1,127 member schools. It is the nation's second largest high school athletic federation. Only Texas (1,157 member schools) is larger.

Autonomous Zones

But California, unlike other states, is divided into 10 semiautonomous zones or sections. Over the years the sections have grown into philosophical islands, each with problems unique to the portion of the state each occupies.

The sections range in membership from six schools (in Oakland) to 474 in the massive Southern Section. Each is allowed to establish its own procedures and regulations within loose bylaws handed down from a state office in Fullerton.

State Commissioner Thomas E. Byrnes, a former Southern Section commissioner, says he acts "as a cover for our organizations."

The state office "is the gladiator in the arena," he said. "This system has worked very well for 70-some years."

Some of the differences among sections are severe. For instance:

- Three--Los Angeles City, Oakland and San Francisco--are composed entirely of schools from those cities' high school districts. The commissioner in each is a district administrator.

- In San Diego, Commissioner Kendall Webb answers to an executive committee composed of the area's high school superintendents. In other regions, including the Southern Section, the supreme governing committee (their titles vary by section) is generally composed only of high school principals.

- In the North Coast Section, Commissioner Paul Gaddini likes league councils to handle athletic eligibility problems. The commissioner passes a final judgment on a case-by-case basis only when asked by individual leagues. In San Diego, Webb insists on handling all eligibility cases for the section.

- In conjunction with a handful of Nevada schools, the Northern Section hosts sectional snow-skiing finals. No other section in California has a skiing program.

"The philosophies vary greatly from section to section," Byrnes said. "There is a tremendous difference from north to south."

And nowhere "from north to south" are the differences more magnified than here in Chester, where Adamson runs the second-largest geographic section (behind the Southern Section) as the state's only part-time commissioner. He replaces Gregg LeMaster, who died in January after heart surgery.

The Northern Section stretches from the Oregon border south to Marysville, from the Nevada border west to the Trinity Mountains. It has only 68 schools, but encompasses some of the state's best known wooded areas, including Lake Tahoe and Lassen, Modoc, Shasta and Klamath national forests.

Adamson will be paid $11,400 next year, plus some fringe benefits "which I still have to negotiate."

"It's really a full-time job for a part-time wage," he said.

The base salary for Thomas, the Southern Section commissioner, is $50,808. The base rate for new Commissioner Hal Harkness of the Los Angeles City Section is $45,075.

Adamson, the Northern Section commissioner, plans an operating budget of about $45,000 for the 1986-87 school year, "about the same as last year." The section has a carry-over of about $22,000, which will allow Adamson to implement a second consecutive cut of 50% in the dues for member schools.

Less Than $70 in Dues

That means each school will pay an average of less than $70 this school year in dues.

In the 1985-86 school year, the last year for which figures are available, the Southern Section had a budget of $850,000. Member schools paid a minimum of $75 a year, or 23 cents per pupil enrolled, whichever was larger. Also, the schools were assessed $15 for each sport they participated in. A school of 2,000 students with 20 teams paid $760.

Thomas has 12 paid employees. They include six full-time secretaries, three full-time assistant commissioners, a full-time media director and a fund raiser, whose salary is split between a base wage and a percentage of what he brings in.

Adamson has no paid help but hopes that he can persuade his wife, Judy, who works at Chester's only bank, to do some typing for him. He hopes he can budget money to pay her "around $5 an hour."

In his tree-shrouded, single-story home around the corner from Chester High School, where he was a teacher, coach and principal for 28 years, Adamson has fashioned a new office for the Northern Section. It is a 12-by-14-foot room adjacent to the closet that once housed the family water well.

"They pump the water up from one of these lakes now, so I'm going to use it as a storage closet," he said with a smile.

Office in the Home

Soon after being chosen commissioner, Adamson drove his four-wheel-drive truck down to LeMaster's house in Arbuckle, about an hour north of Sacramento on Interstate 5. For five years LeMaster had also conducted section business from an office in his home.

Adamson returned with a copying machine, an answer-phone, an electric typewriter and a filing cabinet. With some old family furniture and an oak desk (a handmade retirement gift from the high school wood shop) he furnished the new Northern Section office.

In contrast, the Southern Section office building on Artesia Boulevard near Studebaker Road in Cerritos was built in 1965 at a cost of $35,000. The building was upgraded 10 years later at a cost of $90,000. It has dressing rooms, restrooms, office cubicles, a meeting room and parking lot, which it shares with Richard Gahr High School and its Hanford Rants Stadium.

If Adamson holds a meeting of more than three people at his place, he'll have to move it into the living room.

But that would be the simple, logical thing to do. Northern Californians say they refuse to duplicate the massive growth of their neighbors to the south. Local control is a strong issue in rural sections.

No Concern for L.A.

"Not to demean the Southern Section. It's probably necessary in their situation--being that they are so big--to do what they do," Adamson said.

In Chester, the residents have a saying about their high-country life style. It popped up on bumper stickers recently as a retort to the big-city tourists who engorge the nearby national park each summer, swelling the town's population of 1,700 fourfold.

It reads something like "Who cares how they do it in L.A."

Said Adamson: "Gregg LeMaster used to say he didn't really give a damn what they do in L.A. We keep it simple here in Northern California."

In Northern California, school personnel have more allegiance to their leagues, according to North Coast Commissioner Gaddini. "In the south, it appears there is a primary allegiance to the section and a secondary one to the league," he said in describing how section members view the chain of command from north to south.

But Central Coast Section Commissioner Larry Rice said he sees a subtle shift in philosophies.

"Ten years ago I would have said, 'Yeah, there is a line at the Tehachapi Mountains that divides the state,' " he said. "In Southern California, because of its metropolitan area, there was a sense of stronger central control. I think things have shifted some now." He indicated that he sees a subtle shift by some northern sections toward stronger centralized control, while he sees several sections in the south making small moves toward decentralization.

Not Seeking Sectional Rift

Adamson was quick to point out that neither he, nor any of the administrators in the Northern Section, want to start a north-south rift.

"We have dedicated people in this section," Adamson said. "Anyone that would drive all those miles in snow to attend a meeting must be dedicated. I'm sure the people in other sections are just as dedicated."

But sometimes the feelings between sections have been strained. The number of schools in each section and their influence at the state level are often topics at state commissioner meetings. The Southern Section has been attacked for using its large membership as a political tool. It refused to participate in the 1985 state basketball championships after a handful of influential high school principals complained that participating in state playoffs after the section finals made the season too long. The principals wanted the season cut short by a week, but some of the other sections balked.

With Southern Section teams sitting out the state finals, the state's attendance revenue was severely curtailed, and the event carried a stigma of not being a "true" state championship.

Soon thereafter, the principals got what they wanted--a week cut off the season--and the Southern Section returned to the state playoffs last March.

Outgoing Southern Section Commissioner Ray Plutko said his organization only attempted to "put its size to work for us."

Powerful Southern Section

But other commissioners are concerned that the Southern Section has become too powerful.

Said Webb: "My one big concern is that the state needs some restructuring of the sections. We have one section (Oakland) that is smaller than a league and another section (Southern) that has 500 schools."

Lou Jones, Oakland commissioner, said he sees some inequities in the system, but is satisfied with the CIF.

"In the same terms, we're too small and we realize that the Southern Section is too large." he said.

Responded Thomas: "Some people feel the Southern Section has been too large. But then again, it's been well managed. We meet the needs of our members, which are the schools."

Does California's unique status help its national image?

"We look on (the sections) as just one member," Durbin said.

A simple approach to a complex system.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
54°