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Small Schools Are Feeling Out of Place in a Metropolitan Environment

The fervor has died down since it was announced last January that the 5-team 2-A South Bay and 5-team 3-A Mesa leagues would merge to become the Metropolitan Conference.

But it’s more because the coaches from the predominately “small” schools have accepted the circumstances and are doing the best they can, not because they look forward to the David and Goliath-like duals the merger has created.

“I was hired to coach, and that’s what I’m going to do the best as I can,” said Sam Coe, Mar Vista’s first-year football coach. “I knew what I was going into when I accepted the job.”

The change has had little effect on the former Mesa schools with the larger enrollments, but the effect on the smaller schools--Castle Park, Mar Vista, Hilltop, Marian and Coronado--has been devastating. In fact, Marian and Coronado have seceded from the league in football.

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Already this season, former 2-A schools are 0-4 against the 3-A schools.

The main arguments from the smaller schools are that the competition is unfair and that fewer playoffs spots are available.

“For us to go up (in competition), it’s not completely fair,” said Joy Gritts, Hilltop’s football coach. “We just can’t compete at that level all year. And we’re isolated as far as the new kids we’re getting in.”

The decision to unify the league was based on four criteria, according to Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Anthony Trujillo:

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--Classroom intrusion.

--Better school district unity.

--More meaningful playoffs.

--Higher level of competition.

Of these points, classroom intrusion and better district unity were of primary importance, he said.

“I looked over the budget,” Trujillo said, “and I decided it was time to do something about travel costs and classroom intrusion. By having more local games, athletes aren’t being pulled out of class.”

Trujillo said the issue was complicated under the two-league setup because buses scheduled to take athletes to competition had been in conflict with buses needed to transport students from school.

Bud Aubuchon, a former football coach and current athletic director at Mar Vista, disagreed.

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“To me, it’s just a bunch of lies,” Aubuchon said. “He told us they have enough buses. That’s a bunch of malarkey. Sure, some kids have to get out of class early, but that’s not a legal defense. There are enough buses.”

Added Coe: “So we have to travel another 10 minutes (under the old system), big deal.”

Trujillo also cited lack of unity as a reason for making the change. He was disturbed that coaches were scheduling weaker teams and not those in the district.

“I think you should win or lose by competition,” Trujillo said. “They try to manipulate scheduling to gain an advantage. (Playing) within the league, it’s pure competition.”

Aubuchon said Trujillo never approached the coaches as to why they weren’t scheduling certain schools.

“He never asked 2-A coaches why we were no longer scheduling Chula Vista and Sweetwater,” Aubuchon said.

Said Castle Park football Coach Bob Korzep: "(Trujillo) was hung up on scheduling. 2-A schools had the opportunity not to schedule 3-A teams. They chose not to play Sweetwater.”

Upgraded athletic competition should mirror the other aspects of the educational experience, according to Trujillo.

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“We develop perfection by competing against the best,” Trujillo said. “We should be able to compete with anyone. You don’t become champs by going to the lowest denominator.”

Said Aubuchon: “He could have a point, but high school kids are impressionable. They can’t tell the difference between a 2-A or 3-A championship. I just don’t think he has the kids’ best interest at heart.”

Said Korzep: “We’re not in the business to provide professionals. We’re trying to provide a meaningful experience.”

Trujillo doesn’t view the playoffs with esteem. He said he sees no definition or specific goals with the playoffs set up as they are now.

“I’m not sure if playoffs have any justifiable reason to exist,” Trujillo said. “Teams with losing records were making the playoffs. So what we’re instilling is that you can be a losing team and still make the playoffs.”

Said Coe: “In two leagues (under the old system), you can be 3-7 and still have something to shoot for. I don’t care if you’re Knute Rockne, you won’t be able to motivate them if there’s not something there.”

So where there were once two leagues each large enough to accommodate two automatic playoff berths, there now one league with half as many playoff spots.

The Metro Conference originally passed a proposal late last year to become a 10-team 2-A league, but it was rejected by the CIF Coordinating Council.

At the Jan. 26 Board of Managers meeting, the same motion was denied.

According to Trujillo, 2-A schools from other districts were against the Metro proposal to go 2-A because of Sweetwater High.

“Superintendents from the north turned it down because they didn’t want to play Sweetwater,” he said.

That proposal rejected, there was no place for a unified conference to go but up to the 3-A level. The 3-A proposal passed easily.

Coronado and Marian are Metro Conference members that have taken advantage of a clause in the proposal that allows schools to join another league or play as an independent in some sports.

Both have exercised this option in football, where Coronado is playing an independent 2-A schedule, and Marian is in the 1-A Desert-Coastal League.

But in all other sports, Marian, with 375 enrolled, and Coronado, with 638, both 4-year schools, stay with the conference in spite of a gross disparity in enrollment. Three-year Chula Vista, with 1,870 students, has the largest enrollment in the conference. (4-year Southwest has 2,119 but just 1,629 sophomores, juniors and seniors).

George Milke, Marian’s athletic director, said, “If we can stay where we are in football, 1-A, I think we’re in a pretty good situation.”

Things aren’t going so well in Coronado.

“It’s frustrating,” said Robbin Adair, the school’s athletic director. “We have no voice at any level. CIF feels sorry for us, but there’s nothing they can do.”

Until some form of realignment takes place, Coronado is relegated Metro Conference play. Adair said there is talk of Coronado switching leagues, but it’s just that, talk.

“I’m trying to set something up,” Adair said. “The problem is not getting out of a league, it’s getting into another league.”

And it’s a problem that the “small” schools would like to solve, quieting the fervor forever.


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