There is new leadership in high school sports in Southern California, and coaches, athletes and parents should begin noticing the difference.
In the City Section, Barbara Fiege took over as athletic commissioner in October, the first woman to hold the position in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Last week, Dean Crowley was promoted to Southern Section commissioner after working as a section administrator for the last 18 years.
Fiege, 40, and Crowley, 59, are qualified administrators with extensive athletic backgrounds. Fiege was a volleyball and softball player in high school and college and coached both at Dorsey and Belmont highs. Crowley attended Alhambra High and has been a football and basketball official on the high school and college level most of his adult life.
At a time when high school sports are facing many obstacles, including budgetary problems and abuse of transfer rules, the new leaders are a refreshing change. Each is organized and able to make quick decisions, even if they are not popular ones.
Fiege, who replaced Hal Harkness, has already made her presence known. Coaches became more involved by forming committees that set the playoff brackets for fall sports. She cracked down on cheating by denying athletic eligibility for one year to students who transfer without moving. And to try to improve communications, Fiege is regularly visiting member schools.
Crowley replaces Stan Thomas, who was forced to resign in October for misusing his personal expense account. The section’s Executive Committee will review Crowley’s performance in June and decide then whether to make his promotion permanent.
That appears to be a mere technicality, however, for a man who is the best qualified for the job. Crowley brings knowledge and stability that was lacking under Thomas. He is being asked to run the state’s largest section with 25% less staff than it had a year ago and is on a hiring freeze. He is facing a severe budget deficit and a tarnished image that resulted from Thomas’ dismissal.
“We’re going to just try and maintain status quo,” Crowley said. “Nothing fancy, but we’ll get the job done.”
Fiege and Crowley should get the job done better than their predecessors. Their constituents should expect or accept nothing less.
Lancaster Antelope Valley, reinstated into the playoffs at the last minute after being kicked out for using an ineligible player in three league games, ended the state’s longest undefeated streak Friday when it defeated La Puente Bishop Amat, 21-7.
Bishop Amat (11-1) entered the Southern Section Division I quarterfinal with a 26-game winning streak. Its last loss was to Antelope Valley (7-5) in the first round of the playoffs in 1991.
The Lancers played most of the game without their leading rusher, Rodney Sermons, who sprained his knee in practice last week. Despite the setback, they led, 7-0, in the fourth quarter.
The Antelopes mounted an impressive comeback, highlighted by linebacker Keith Schiele’s 21-yard touchdown interception return that gave his team a 14-7 lead with six minutes to play.
The 21 points Bishop Amat gave up in the fourth quarter was more than it had yielded for an entire game all season.
The state’s longest winning streak is now shared by Norco and Fresno Clovis West at 26 games. Norco (12-0) is the Southern Section’s defending Division V champion. It defeated San Bernardino Pacific, 43-0, last week and plays at Barstow on Friday. Clovis West (12-0), the Central Section’s defending major division champion, is coming off a 49-21 victory over Bakersfield Foothill. It hosts Bakersfield West in the semifinals Friday.
The state’s longest unbeaten streak belongs to Los Alamitos at 33 games. The Griffins, who tied Anaheim Esperanza for the Southern Section Division II title last season, are 12-0 after routing Huntington Beach Edison, 34-8. They play Fountain Valley at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
Southern Section officials believe they have a first in the football playoffs with all four of the Los Padres League entrants advancing to the Division IX semifinals. Santa Ynez (11-1) plays at Atascadero (11-1), and Cabrillo (9-3) hosts Paso Robles (11-1) Friday night.
Santa Ynez, Atascadero and Paso Robles finished the regular season tied for the league title at 4-1 and Cabrillo was fourth at 2-3. The league titlists received automatic playoff berths and Cabrillo was chosen as an at-large selection.
All four teams have breezed through the playoffs, outscoring their opponents, 156-17, in the quarterfinals.
“To be honest, we’re not really surprised with the success we’ve had in the playoffs,” Santa Ynez Coach Ken Gruendyke said. “We knew our league was very tough coming in and felt we all deserved to be here. It sure boasts well for the quality of competition up here.”
Highlights from the quarterfinal round of the football playoffs: The San Fernando Valley is turning out to be a hotbed for quarterbacks. Four from that area had memorable performances Friday. Mike Kocicka of Newhall Hart passed for 319 yards and a touchdown in a 44-42 loss to Compton Dominguez. Zack Hernandez of Los Angeles Baptist in North Hills threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-20 victory over Panorama City St. Genevieve. Keith Smith of Newbury Park, the leading passer in the state, threw for 310 yards and one touchdown in a 41-20 victory against Montebello. And Kevin Crook of Westlake completed 17 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-22 loss to Hawthorne. . . . George Keiaho, a four-year starter at Ventura Buena, had one of his best games when he rushed for 309 yards in 43 carries and scored one touchdown in a 28-27 overtime victory over West Covina. Keiaho, 5 feet 9, 200 pounds, did not show any effects from knee and groin injuries that had sidelined him in three of the Bulldogs’ previous four games. . . . Marty Spalding, 46, has resigned as the football coach at Mission Viejo, less than a year after being hired. He replaced Mike Rush, who died last week. Spalding was hired after a two-month search in which there were 10 finalists, several of whom had ties to Mission Viejo. Spalding’s selection angered many parents because he previously was an assistant at El Toro, then a bitter rival of Mission Viejo. He further angered some parents by hiring former El Toro coach Bob Johnson as an assistant.
Times’ Top 20 Football Poll
The Times’ top 20 high school football poll, with teams from the City and Southern Sections.
School Sec. Div. Rec. LW 1. Eisenhower SS I 12-0-0 2 2. Los Alamitos SS II 12-0-0 3 3. Newbury Park SS III 12-0-0 4 4. Mater Dei SS I 11-1-0 7 5. Antelope Valley* SS I 7-5-0 8 6. Bishop Amat SS I 11-1-0 1 7. Hunt. Beach SS II 12-0-0 9 8. Hawthorne SS III 11-1-0 10 9. Dominguez SS II 10-1-0 18 10. Norco SS V 12-0-0 11 11. Hart SS II 10-2-0 5 12. Irvine SS IV 11-1-0 12 13. LB Poly SS I 10-2-0 6 14. Sylmar City 4-A 10-1-1 14 15. Fountain Valley SS II 10-2-0 19 16. Dorsey City 4-A 9-3-0 NR 17. Canyon Springs SS IV 11-1-0 NR 18. Bell Gardens SS III 9-2-1 NR 19. Quartz Hill SS I 10-1-0 20 20. San Pedro City 3-A 11-1-0 NR
* indicates three losses by forfeit.