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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Kennedy’s 4-A Presence Gives Conference an Odd Split

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s pop-quiz time in the City Section, time to test reader familiarity with recent developments in the Northwest Valley Conference.

Question: When the numbers 5 and 3 are bandied about, what jumps to mind?

A) The 5-3 is a defensive scheme manned by very squat individuals.

B) Fifty-three is the number of teams from the 4-A Division that qualified for the playoffs last season.

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C) It’s the best way to divide eight teams into two groups.

The answer is C, at least in the City’s eyes. For picking the right answer, winners receive either five hours in study hall for being arithmetic numskulls or a permanent position as a district administrator.

Years of disparity in the City’s 3-A and 4-A divisions prompted coaches and administrators last spring to formulate a plan to more evenly divide the teams into two balanced playoff divisions.

For the past few years, a mere 12 of the City’s 49 schools competed at the 4-A level, and all 12 automatically qualified for postseason play, irrespective of their record. Last season, Cleveland (0-9-1) advanced despite its failure to win a regular-season game, and the Cavaliers forfeited in the first round.

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Each of the City’s eight-team conferences is divided into two four-team leagues. One league in each conference will compete at the 4-A level, the other at the 3-A. The groupings are based on the team’s record from the previous season. Balance was virtually achieved: The 3-A would have 25 teams; the 4-A would have 24.

The City, which had been trying in vain for several years to correct the divisional imbalance, finally pulled the trigger.

All was not well, however. Kennedy Coach Bob Francola, believing his team had been banished to the nether regions, cried foul. And it prompted a major revision.

“If I hadn’t done all I could to politicize where we were placed, I would have hated myself,” Francola said.

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Kennedy, based on its 3-4 record in conference play last season, was scheduled to compete in the 3-A North Valley League, along with Reseda, Chatsworth and Cleveland.

Francola, however, successfully lobbied to have his team remain in the 4-A West Valley, with longtime rivals Granada Hills and San Fernando as well as El Camino Real and Taft.

Consequently, the conference is divided, 5-3, a split that some folks termed bananas. It left Reseda, Cleveland and Chatsworth to stand alone in the North Valley, the City’s only three-team league.

“I think there’s some hard feelings about it,” Francola said.

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He thinks correctly. This division has proven divisive. Three teams make for a dandy round robin, but a football league?

“I think it’s a catastrophe,” Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer said. “It should have been split four and four. I call this the freak-team alignment.”

Francola successfully argued to City athletic administrators that his team always has participated at the 4-A level. Sure, dropping to the 3-A level would have made Kennedy an instant power, but Francola says there was more to his petition than wins and losses.

“How well we’ll do has nothing to do with it,” Francola said. “It’s not about thinking we’ll be good one year, or being bad and dropping down.

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“It’s about pride and tradition and competing against the best teams.”

If this particular conference alignment seems backward, take a peek at the City’s revised list of leagues, released over the summer.

The Northwest Valley Conference leagues are listed, side by side and sideways, as the North Valley and Valley West. The Valley Pac-8 Conference’s leagues are the Mid-Valley and the Valley East.

Francola’s political success could be inherently dangerous.

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At the 3-A level, Kennedy would have been installed as an instant favorite to win a City title. Boasting several potential NCAA Division I players, the Golden Cougars are the overwhelming choice of conference coaches as the team to beat.

What will Francola tell his players if they fail at the 4-A level?

“If we fall on our faces, it will have nothing to do with the new divisions,” Francola said.

“It will be a failure on the part of the players and coaches. Everyone knows what our expectations are.”

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They are running high, to be sure. This team may be Kennedy’s strongest since 1986, a season in which seven players landed scholarships at Division I schools.

Furthermore, Kennedy will be expected to handle Granada Hills, a team that holds a 4-0-1 record against the Golden Cougars in Francola’s five seasons as coach.

An active, ignominious streak also should end: Granada Hills, where Francola once served as an assistant, has recorded three consecutive shutouts of Kennedy.

The combined score (58-0) is more lopsided than, well, the 5-3 conference imbalance.

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Despite the criticism, there is a silver lining or two for Reseda, Cleveland and Chatsworth.

In both the 4-A and 3-A divisions, two teams from each of the six leagues automatically advance to the playoffs. To round out the 16-team field, four wild-card teams will be selected based on won-loss records in conference play.

In any event, the worst any team in the North Valley can finish is third. Besides, plenty of North Valley players will have individual bragging rights at season’s end.

“Everybody and their mom will make the all-league team,” Schaeffer quipped.

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NORTHWEST VALLEY CONFERENCE WEST VALLEY LEAGUE (4-A)

PROJECTED FINISH 1990 RECORD Kennedy 3-4 in North Valley League, 7-5 overall San Fernando 4-3 in North Valley League, 7-5 overall Granada Hills 7-0 in West Valley League, 10-2 overall El Camino Real 5-2 in West Valley League, 7-4 overall Taft 5-2 in West Valley League, 7-4 overall

NORTH VALLEY LEAGUE (3-A)

PROJECTED FINISH 1990 RECORD Reseda 3-4 in North Valley League, 5-5 overall Chatsworth 1-6 in West Valley League, 2-8 overall Cleveland 0-7 in North Valley League, 0-9-1 overall

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Ibn Bilal Cleveland RB 5-10 160 Jr. Troy Bregal Kennedy OL 6-2 240 Sr. Brian Brison San Fernando QB 5-9 175 Sr. Gerald Cohl Reseda K 5-6 140 Jr. Herbert Cosey El Camino Real DL 6-2 240 Sr. Anthony Jones Kennedy DB 6-2 185 Sr. Karlon Mack Taft QB 6-1 185 Sr. John Moss Granada Hills DB 6-0 175 Sr. Alex Sawatzke Kennedy LB 6-1 230 Sr. LaKarlos Townsend San Fernando RB 5-9 170 Sr.


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