Departures Leave Olympic-Sized Void

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Changes in the Olympic League, an alliance of private high schools, might alter the look of some Orange County public school leagues next year.

What is a six-team league will be missing at least one of its current members. Brethren Christian's move to the Academy League already has been approved by the Southern Section. Then, earlier this month, Sierra Madre Maranatha announced that it intends to join the Christian League.

That means the Olympic League might be down to four schools--Orange Lutheran, Calvary Chapel, Whittier Christian and Cerritos Valley Christian--for the 2001-2002 school year.

"Over the next couple of weeks we'll be in the information-gathering process as a league and as individual schools within the league," said Jim Kunau, Orange Lutheran's athletic director and football coach.

Recruiting replacement schools and keeping the league otherwise intact is among many options.

Dave Rolph, Calvary Chapel principal and Olympic League president, said Downey Calvary Chapel has indicated interest in joining. And at a league meeting last week, principals and athletic directors targeted St. Margaret's as another potential league member.

Steve Balak, St. Margaret's principal, said Monday that any invitation would "go through a lot of different layers and levels" before a decision is made.

"That would be our first priority--try to keep the Olympic League together," Whittier Christian Principal Bob Brown said. "As long as Orange Lutheran stays in, our first priority is to invite two other schools in."

There is a November deadline to make such requests to the section office.

Among other possibilities is an every-school-for-itself scenario, with the remaining league schools trying to find homes in other existing leagues.

Orange Lutheran and Calvary Chapel might even seek a place in a public-school league. Only two years ago, larger private schools Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Servite/Rosary were taken out of public-school leagues and put into the all-private Serra League, along with Bellflower St. John Bosco.

Kunau has made casual inquiries into moving Orange Lutheran into the Sea View League, which, like the Golden West League, has only five schools. Three of Orange Lutheran's five nonleague football games this season are against Sea View League teams.

"I'll vote for anybody to get out of being a five-team league," said Terry Henigan, Irvine's football coach and athletic director. "Heck, I'll vote for Mater Dei. Athletically, Orange Lutheran is good enough, that's for sure."

Henigan's football team defeated Orange Lutheran 55-14 last Friday, but both coaches said their teams aren't that far apart in talent. Orange Lutheran played defending Sea View champion Newport Harbor close in Week 1, losing 14-7. The Lancers also ended Woodbridge's 17-game unbeaten streak last year.

A five-team league forces football teams to have league byes over the final five weeks of the season. In the Sea View League, that has created a nasty geographical lineup of games: Laguna Hills ends its season at Moorpark; in Week 9, Newport Harbor travels to Cathedral City; Irvine plays at Fairfax, Woodbridge at Westlake Village Westlake and Aliso Niguel at Katella in the preceding weeks.

"It would solve a lot of problems in the Sea View League because of scheduling," Woodbridge Coach Rick Gibson said. "It's not that I'd want them in because it would be an easy game, because it wouldn't. They're a good football team."

Of course, there's more than football to consider. Calvary Chapel and Orange Lutheran teams have enjoyed plenty of playoff success within the Southern Section's small school divisions. But Kunau is a realist.

"Across the board, we would come in initially as the lowest-level competitor in that [Sea View] league, without question," Kunau said. "Our enrollment is going to top out at 950. That ceiling makes it difficult to ever be a real powerhouse."

Another possibility officials from Orange Lutheran and Calvary Chapel have discussed among themselves is both schools joining a league, such as the six-team Pacific Coast League, in tandem.

But right now, that's only talk. Calvary Chapel is taking a wait-and-see approach. "If Orange Lutheran can find a public school league, then the door might be open for us to be in a public school league, too," Rolph said.

One thing is certain, though, Kunau said: "None of us is ready for the Serra League."

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