Independents Scramble to Fill Schedule : Prep football: Antelope Valley Christian’s decision to return to eight-man football leaves some schools looking for a new opponent.
After rolling to the Southern Section Eight-Man Small Schools Division title last season with a 13-0 record, and outscoring its opponents, 658-88, Antelope Valley Christian scheduled a jump into 11-man football as a Division X independent this season.
Ted Knapp, the coach, boasted that his team was capable of being competitive at the 11-man level after last year’s rampage, but the Eagles will open the season Sept. 14 once again as an eight-man team.
The school’s return to the Small Schools level became official Aug. 1, when David Ralph, the school’s principal, informed the Southern Section office that the Eagles did not have the manpower to field a competitive 11-man team.
Knapp had resigned as coach in June, amid fears from coaches of two of Antelope Valley Christian’s scheduled opponents--Highland High and Littlerock--that the Eagles would not be able to field an 11-man team.
Sam Vianna, a full-time teacher at Palmdale High, was hired to replace Knapp as a walk-on coach, but he left shortly thereafter for an assistant coaching position at Pierce College.
Steve Cieslik, whose son Craig played for the team last season, then took over. Cieslik, who works for the county probation department, had never coached football before. He was the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Antelope Valley Christian last season, and he coached baseball and soccer when he lived on the East Coast.
“We just had a lot less people come out for the team this year,” said Cieslik, who has a little more than 20 players. “It was obvious to me by late July that we might not have enough guys to field a competitive team at the 11-man level. If we had had an injury or two, we would have been in real trouble.”
The Eagles’ decision has left four area schools--Montclair Prep, Camp Kilpatrick, Highland and Littlerock--with the likelihood of having one less opponent on their schedules.
“I called (Ralph) the day after Knapp resigned to make sure this exact scenario would not happen,” Highland Coach Lin Parker said. “They assured me that they would be able to field an 11-man team.”
Parker and Littlerock Coach Jim Bauer contacted the L. A. City Section, the Central Section and the San Diego Section in search of another opponent. When that proved fruitless, they contacted schools in Arizona and Nevada. Highland even went international, looking to Mexico for a possible opponent.
“If we can’t get the team in Tijuana (for an Oct. 18 game),” Parker said, “we’re going to have to eat the bye.”
Montclair Prep, Camp Kilpatrick and Littlerock have had no better luck.
“I understand why (Antelope Valley Christian) did what they did,” Bauer said. “I have no bones to pick with them over that. But losing that game really hurts us financially. Making a conservative estimate, we’re going to lose $1,000 to $2,000 at the gate and the same amount at the snack bar.”