The final year of the decade 2010-2019 was a bountiful one for area fans of LA City Section football.
Three Valley prep teams won championships: Birmingham Community Charter High in the Open Division, Reseda High in Division 1, and Canoga Park High in Division II. All three teams ended title droughts of various lengths. Birmingham last won a City title in 2007; Reseda last won in 1995; and Canoga Park’s last championship came in 1981. One of the teams — Reseda — made it all the way to a state CIF Championship Bowl game.
The year would have been remarkable if only one team had won a title, considering that several teams lost one or even two games due to wildfires and toxic air. And there were the other assorted maladies that have redefined prep football, from dwindling participation overall to the fact most of the considered “top” area talent is often wooed to attend private schools or those with bigger programs, as if such a move can guarantee postseason success and acclaim — not to mention a scholarship to the college Division I program of their choice.
There could even be those who would want to add an asterisk to the three title-winners — as in “yeah, but Narbonne didn’t play.” Narbonne High of Harbor City has been the City’s lone super program, having won five consecutive football titles until, in essence, dethroning themselves by being barred from this year’s playoffs after it was determined the team had used ineligible players. Its forced removal reshuffled the Open Division and Division 1 brackets enough to perhaps give both Birmingham and Reseda some more favorable matchups.
But there’s no way Birmingham, Reseda or Canoga Park will let you rob them of their joy or serenity
“Our goal was not ‘State’ in the beginning. But now the bar has been raised a little bit because [of winning the City title]. So, the younger guys may have a newer goal,” Birmingham Coach Jim Rose said at the end of the season. And Coach Kevin Carlsen of Canoga Park, and Coach Alonso Arreola of Reseda offered similar retrospectives on their teams.
“It’s been a very long time for Canoga Park football,” Carlsen said. “[This season] still feels a little bit surreal; but the kids played together all season long…we might get moved up [to Division 1] next year but we like the challenge. But the kids are never gonna forget this. Every time they go back to a Canoga Park game after graduation, they’re gonna be that team that won a City championship. It’s no longer just the 1981 guys or the 1968 guys. It’s also the 2019 guys.”
“A lot of times just winning the section was a ‘goal,’” Arreola said. “I don’t think these kids had really put into perspective that they would have an opportunity to be in a state playoff format. But now that’s been a reality, the goals moving forward can change — number one to continue to put yourself in a situation to compete in this format now that it is alive and well. That it is possible will be in the minds of future football kids here because of this 2019 team. And that’s a big deal.”
The percolating notion is this: all three teams, as currently constructed, have the potential to repeat in 2020. None will endure extremely heavy senior departures, forcing them to rebuild all over again. All three teams should have All-City honorees — some of them sophomores this year — back for another season.
Further food for thought: what if the balance of power in City football has come back over the hill after all those years at Narbonne?
The only predictable thing about the future is in it being unpredictable. No one can yet say how transfers or injuries will once again alter the landscape. No one yet knows what “surprise” team will emerge like Canoga Park did. And what if Reseda or Canoga Park are moved into higher brackets next year?
The next chapter regarding Narbonne is still being written. The school agreed not to challenge the playoff ban in 2019, but could appeal in 2020. But even if the appeal is successful, does Narbonne immediately resume its dominant ways over the rest of City football, or does the program suffer setbacks for a time because players and coaches scatter to other locations?
The plethora of potential scenarios make the upcoming 2020 City season possibly more drama-filled. The Southern Section, simply by the sheer number of teams in the section, inarguably has the better overall quality of play. But the so-called “lesser amount of talent” at the City Section teams is more evenly spread out, giving its games an “anything’s possible” vibe that can make its Friday night viewing more of a “must-see” than its bigger, better-funded counterpart.
Certainly, the fanbase at Birmingham, Reseda and Canoga Park, after waiting more than a few years to celebrate, would love to do it again next year. So would other Valley-area teams at El Camino Real Charter High (which lost to Reseda in the Division 1 final), San Fernando High, Kennedy High, Arleta High, Poly High, and Granada Hills Charter High, to name a few.
Yes, indeed, a new decade could be signaling a new increased spectacle of football in the North, the Northeast, and the West geographical pockets of the San Fernando Valley.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens.