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When School Officials Get Together to Consider Changing Leagues, There’s Little Doubt . . . : Football Remains the Bottom Line

Times Staff Writer

When a high school decides to change leagues--releague--chances are its football team has had a couple of lousy seasons.

Principals and athletic directors may talk about declining enrollment and transportation costs, but in the end it’s the football team’s record that determines what league a school competes in.

That’s why Kennedy High School this year decided to transfer from the Empire League to the Garden Grove League next season.

Kennedy has plenty of students (2,100) and is in reasonable proximity to other Empire League schools. But Kennedy’s football team has a 2-12 record in league play over the past two seasons.

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See ya.

That football is king is news to practically no one, and the reason it has such power is very simple: It makes money.

“You want to make a move that helps your entire program,” said George Terlaak, Pacifica athletic director. “But when you’re evaluating something like that you must keep in mind that football makes most of the money for an athletic program.”

Some basketball teams make money, but most just break even. All other sports--water polo, volleyball, field hockey--usually operate in the red.

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This creates a belief in most athletic departments that all sports are equal . . . but some are more equal than others.

“It’s something you accept or go crazy yelling about,” said Boyd Philpot, Tustin water polo coach. “To a school administration’s way of thinking, football is the most important. It’s makes the money, it gives the school a lot of its spirit.”

Last January, Tustin started looking around for a new league. In 1985, its football team was 2-5 in the Century League--one of Orange County’s toughest--and had not won a league championship since 1955.

“Our football team had been just spinning its wheels,” said Al Rosmino, Tustin athletic director.

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So Rosmino called his coaches together to discuss a possible change. When it came time for Philpot’s input he said any league would be fine . . . as long as it wasn’t the Sea View League.

You see, the Sea View League is generally considered the top high school water polo league in the nation, maybe the universe. There has been at least one Sea View League representative in the 4-A Southern Section playoff finals since 1974. Many times both teams have been from that league.

Philpot knew that joining the Sea View would be a death sentence to his team’s playoff hopes. But the Sea View League was attractive to the football program because it was well-respected and yet not as tough, top to bottom, as the Century League.

Guess which program got its wish. Here’s a clue.

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“There’s no doubt that football has a primary concern when making the move,” Rosmino said. “It’s in the public eye, it gets the boosters involved, it builds an entire psychological base for the students’ spirit.”

Surprise, surprise. Tustin ends up in the Sea View League and wins its first league title in 31 years.

At the time it was announced, Philpot said the move was “unfortunate for the water polo program. I could have one of my better teams and not even make the playoffs because powers like Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar are already there.”

Well, Philpot did have one of his better teams. The best team, he said, since he won the 1982 3-A championship. Tustin was ranked fifth most of the year and even defeated 4-A finalist Sunny Hills twice during the season.

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And for all this, Tustin ended up fourth in the Sea View League and out of the playoffs.

Boyd said it would be like this.

His team finished behind Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor and University, which each found its way to the 4-A semifinals.

“It’s really discouraging to tell your kids that the only reason they’re not going to the playoffs, playoffs they deserve to be in, is because they were put in the wrong league,” Philpot said. “If it were football, and the fifth-ranked team in the Southern Section didn’t make the playoffs, there would be quite an uproar. But when I talked to people about this, CIF-type people, they didn’t think there was any problem at all.”

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There has not exactly been an uproar. Like Philpot, most coaches accept the situation and try to work within it.

Steve Stratos, Woodbridge girls’ volleyball coach, wasn’t the happiest when his school moved to the Pacific Coast League--a league that proved competitive for the school’s football team, but did not challenge his players at all.

“We came from the Sea View, where every game was tough,” Stratos said. “This year, the league competition didn’t test our talent. I had to work hard to get enough tough nonleague games that would keep my team sharp.”

Philpot and others have suggested that one solution would be for schools to enter individual sports in the league that best fit those programs. That way the football team is where it wants to be and so is everyone else.

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It sounds great, but it’s not going to happen.

“Logistically it would be almost impossible,” Rosmino said. “Transportation costs would be tremendous.”

Mileage aside, different leagues for different sports would demand a school adhere to the rules of several league constitutions.

“As it stands now, we have problems just dealing with one constitution,” Rosmino said. “I can’t imagine having three or four of them to consider. That would be scary.”

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So things figure to stay as they’ve always been.

“I could rant and rave and nothing is going to change,” Philpot said.

Football will remain the high school athletics’ Pied Piper, and the “other” sports its helpless followers.


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