I’ve been fortunate to cover sports from the pros to the preps and just about everything in between since the 1980s. And I don’t know if I’ve ever quite seen a year like this one — at least on a local level.
City Section at times can seem like the plain younger sister to the more dynamic (and better funded) Southern Section because so many of the top athletes go to the latter’s schools, especially the private ones that can and have been playing by different rules when it comes to geographical neighborhood boundaries and naked pursuit (read: recruiting) of top tier talent.
This is neither sour grapes nor practiced outrage at seeing so much of high school sports become machinelike and profit-driven with the proliferation of travel teams, personalized instruction and training, television coverage — or lack of same — and private schools with athletics budgets and facilities that some community and small colleges would envy. It’s just the way it is.
The explosion of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (279 and counting), along with relaxed rules regarding transfers further eradicates the traditional groupings of kids who grow up together in one area and all go to the same school. Maybe instead you just have collections of all-star teams
And the more that “competitive equity” takes hold — meaning teams can be moved up or down a division every year or two upon a review of their performance and/or success — should, in theory, make it tougher for one or two teams to continually dominate a sport in a particular division with the exception of Division I. In some sports, like basketball, the top eight Division I teams are placed in an Open Division for the playoffs, with the next 16 teams filling out the bracket.
The thing is, other teams in other divisions are also going to be moved up, back and forth. Maybe a team with enough talent for Division II or III gets moved to a higher spot simply because it had a good year that year at the level it could genuinely compete in. Those teams will have to struggle and scrimp along in a league or division they are not suited for until they are moved back to a level that is more evenly balanced.
That could be the fate of the Cleveland girls’ basketball team, which rose up and won its first ever City basketball title in Division II. It would be fun to see if the Cavaliers could defend that title. But the odds are they will be moved into Division I this fall, and have to compete for a playoff berth with Birmingham, El Camino Real and Granada Hills — which regularly beat them in West Valley League play — or, even worse, have to take on deep programs like Fairfax of Los Angeles, Narbonne of Harbor City, and Palisades Charter of Pacific Palisades in the first or second round with little chance of matching up.
It also makes me wonder if we are going to see more and more stories like the one for Kennedy boys’ volleyball.
The Golden Cougars entered the City Division III playoffs with a 4-23 overall record, and only one of those victories was outside of the Valley Mission League. It was not that long ago the only way Kennedy could have attended the playoffs was by purchasing tickets. But the Cougars got hot and wound up winning the Division III championship.
A heart-tugging triumph, for sure. Yet there will be those (and you can probably include a couple of teams that lost to Kennedy) who would say the Cougars had no business being part of the postseason — even in “Division III.”
I should note that there were plenty of celebratory Valley sporting moments to go around. Sierra Canyon posted a second undefeated season and won a second state football championship bowl game despite being jumped from Southern Section’s Division 10 to Division 4. Besides the Cleveland girls, the Valor Academy girls’ and the Birmingham, Chavez and Van Nuys boys’ basketball teams won City titles. San Fernando won boys and girls wrestling titles. Birmingham also won the City D-1 baseball championship.
Let’s not forget teams like Reseda and Arleta making it to their respective division finals in football and baseball.
Making 2017 a great year for local teams and their fans alike.
It just feels like the high school sporting landscape is going to continue to have fewer and fewer moments and seasons like this.
Maybe the traditional view of what high school sports is, and should be, is gone and will never come back.
And I can’t make up my mind if that’s good or bad.