The imminent closure of Miraleste High School and declining enrollment at El Segundo High have forced the CIF-Southern Section to eliminate the Pioneer League and change the configurations of the Bay and Ocean leagues.
The changes, effective next fall, affect 14 South Bay high schools.
Every two years the Southern Section determines which teams will compete in which leagues for the following two-year period. It did so last September for the 1988-1990 period but was forced to further re-league several South Bay schools when the Peninsula School Board voted to close Miraleste for financial reasons.
Since 1985 the Bay, Ocean and Pioneer have been six-team leagues. The new Bay and Ocean leagues will each have eight teams.
Torrance, Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills will be joined by Hawthorne, Leuzinger, Inglewood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica in the Bay League.
Mira Costa and Culver City will be joined by Redondo, South Torrance, North Torrance, West Torrance, Morningside and Centennial in the Ocean League.
El Segundo, with declining enrollment since 1977, will jump to the Camino Real League but compete in the Santa Fe in football. The Eagles will still face a few South Bay schools in preseason competition.
Although the changes apply to all sports, football will be most affected. Said Stan Thomas, CIF-Southern Section commissioner: “Re-leaguing really means football.”
The implications are many.
Bay and Ocean league teams will have to fight harder for playoff spots since each eight-team league is allowed only three postseason entries. Last season the 18 schools from the Bay, Ocean and Pioneer leagues fielded nine playoff teams.
The new configurations also will add travel demands on Bay League schools from the South Bay that play teams from other areas in league games. Added travel time, some coaches say, cuts down on study time.
Although the football season ended just last month and the 1988 season is eight months away, the changes have many South Bay football coaches thinking about next fall’s foes.
Coaches who usually make the playoffs seem happy or unconcerned with the changes. They expect continued success. Less successful coaches, particularly those who will find unfamiliar powerhouse teams in their league, are less satisfied.
El Segundo Coach Steve Newell is elated. With enrollment of only about 600, El Segundo finished a surprising 4-1 last season in the Pioneer League and is expected to field another superior team. It is two years into the future and beyond that Newell thinks he has less to worry about because the league changes will allow El Segundo to play schools with similar enrollments. Consecutive losing seasons, which El Segundo suffered in recent years, will be eliminated, Newell said.
“We are such a small school compared to the other South Bay schools that it’s been a real battle to keep up,” said Newell, a former receiver with the San Diego Chargers. “We’ve been trying to (make competition more equitable) for a long time and now finally it’s been accomplished.”
In a revamped Santa Fe League, El Segundo will compete against seven small Catholic schools. None had a winning season in 1987.
Despite the probability of gaining at least 300 students from Miraleste, Palos Verdes High is not as fortunate as El Segundo. The Sea Kings, who lost a 41-14 first-round playoff game to Antelope Valley last season, will compete with four strong programs at Hawthorne (4-1 in league, 9-2-1 overall in 1987), Leuzinger (5-0, 9-2-1), Santa Monica (4-1, 9-2) and Beverly Hills (4-1, 8-3).
Those four have enrollments between 2,500 and 3,000 and appear to be growing. Palos Verdes, located in an area facing continual financial problems, will total fewer than 1,900 next fall even while adding students from Miraleste.
“The thing that is unfair is the size,” said Palos Verdes Coach Bill Judy. “There is a big difference between us and those four schools. Only three get to go to the playoffs, and with those four in our league we’re going to have to knock off a few to get there.
“It makes sense that you should beat the best teams to get to the playoffs, but then I look at the last few years and see that the Bay League has been extremely competitive with schools (that have) under 2,000 students. Now the league is in for trouble.”
Palos Verdes Principal Bernard Samuels foresaw the trouble when Joe Rotcher, South Bay re-leaguing chairman and Torrance High principal, convened the 16 principals from the schools that now compose the Bay and Ocean leagues to vote on re-leaguing proposals.
Rejected, along with many other configurations, was a proposal to group all four Torrance schools, Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, Redondo and Mira Costa in one league while grouping the remaining eight in another.
The accepted configuration was approved, 9-7, to the chagrin of Samuels, who filed a complaint with the CIF office. “I don’t like the process,” he said. “I would rather work on a consensus than a vote. The vote was 9-7 and we can do better. There really should be a way to satisfy more people.”
Thomas, Southern Section commissioner, said satisfying everyone is unrealistic. “I think the system is working well,” he said. “It gives everybody a new look every two years and it serves the majority, which is always satisfied. Most of our leagues don’t change, but when change is necessary, it’s in the best interest of the school and the students to do it.”
Like any democratic process, however, voting to re-league may hurt the interests of a particular school. Faced with league games against Hawthorne, Leuzinger, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, Torrance Coach Rich Busia isn’t pleased. Torrance will remain in the tougher Bay League partly because it’s the largest of the Torrance-area schools. “I’d rather have it the other way so that we could be with all the Torrance schools,” said Busia, whose Tartars went 1-4 in league play and 2-8 overall in 1987. “Now it’s going to make it tough to get to the playoffs.
“With their big numbers and their quality coaching, trying to beat Santa Monica and similar schools is sometimes like trying to kill a giant.”
Busia consoled himself in adding that what looks to be an unfair league often becomes more equitable as the season progresses.
Santa Monica High’s Tebb Kusserow is one coach with little reason to complain. “It makes little difference to me whom we play,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to play new people; it’s kind of refreshing.”
Kusserow cited longer travel as a concern, recalling that last month it took his squad three hours to drive to Compton to meet Dominguez in a first-round playoff.
He also lamented the postseason implications of moving from the Southern Conference’s Ocean League to the Coastal Conference’s Bay League. Many superior Orange County teams play in the Southern Conference. Many Valley schools compete in the Coastal Conference.
“My fear is that because the Bay League is in the Coastal Conference, we’ll lose the experience of playing newer teams from Orange County in the playoffs,” Kusserow said. “There is a mystique to Orange County football right now and I would like my kids to experience that.”
A chance to renew a time-honored rivalry has coaches at Redondo and Mira Costa rejoicing. Together again in the Ocean League, Redondo and Mira Costa likely will battle in the league finale.
“There is a good chance we’ll play Redondo in our last game where as before we always played them early in the season,” said Mira Costa Coach Herb Hinsche, whose Mustangs lost Ocean League games to Hawthorne, Inglewood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills in 1987. “Now, no matter if we’re 0-9 or 9-0, that game will end our league season very competitively. We used to do that a long time ago.”
“It’s our No. 1 rivalry,” added Coach Les Congelliere at Redondo (3-2, 6-5 in 1987). “In the 1960s we’d pack the stadium for Mira Costa and we’ve played them every year since the 1950s. This rivalry is part of our history.”
Hinsche and Congelliere said they yearn for stability whenever the CIF determines who will play whom in what league. Stability, however, again may escape the South Bay when the CIF re-leagues after the 1990 season.
Thomas, Southern Section commissioner, said there will be many changes in the future because parts of the South Bay are growing. “Schools are opening and getting bigger where at one time they were closing,” and that will precipitate more league changes, he said.