Approval expected for Napa County high schools to join North Coast Section

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A Montgomery-Napa rivalry? How about Healdsburg vs. Vintage?

Redwood Empire high school athletic leagues likely will have new configurations next year as three Napa County high schools are seeking to compete closer to home. New competitive rivalries may accompany them.

Napa, Vintage and American Canyon high schools have sought permission from the state high school athletics governing body to move from the Sac-Joaquin Section to the North Coast Section to cut down on travel time and improve their competitive equity.

It’s a move that has encountered little opposition thus far and is expected to be formally approved next week at an NCS board of managers meeting in El Cerrito.

“We anticipate being a member of the North Coast Section very soon,” said Mark Morrison, executive director for secondary education at the Napa Unified School District.

That means the three Napa schools will be placed into the Marin-Sonoma-Mendocino Conference, which comprises the North Bay League, Sonoma County League and the Marin County Athletic League. Sonoma County’s 15 largest high schools are assigned to the NBL and SCL.

Today in Rohnert Park, NBL school principals will meet to discuss the idea and are scheduled to vote whether to send their delegates to the NCS meeting next Tuesday with a vote approving the Napa schools’ entry into the NCS.

Local athletic directors have already signaled their openness to the idea, NBL commissioner Jan Smith Billing said.

“Nothing in athletics is ever static,” she said. “Leagues are in flux very frequently.

“At one point the big rivalry was Santa Rosa-Petaluma … Then they moved on to the SCL and Santa Rosa stayed in the NBL. About five years ago, Piner and Elsie Allen moved to the SCL and we got Windsor and Casa Grande. So you just evolve as the leagues do.”

The criteria for moving, according to the California Interscholastic Federation and the NCS, is competitive equity and geographic proximity.

The Sac-Joaquin Section is the second-largest section in the state, with 26 leagues and 198 schools spread over 14,500 square miles. Its boundaries stretch from Merced in the south, Grass Valley in the north, Napa to the west and the Nevada state line to the east.

Napa County students sometimes must leave school at noon to play games at Central Valley schools and are on the bus three hours en route, taking them out of the classroom for significant lengths of time.

Morrison has requested that all three Napa schools stay in the same league in order to keep their local rivalries.

But that is not assured, nor is it even on the list of criteria used to determine which leagues the schools are assigned, NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said.

“In fact, even schools being in the same district is not a criteria we can use to align schools,” he said. “We don’t separate by public/private. We don’t have natural or traditional rivalries. Staying together is not a guarantee.”

Justin-Siena High School is in the MCAL. Similarly, Petaluma and Casa Grande are in different leagues.

It might make sense to put two Napa schools into the NBL, which has eight teams now, and one into the SCL, which has seven. The MCAL has 10 schools now.

That would even out the number of league members and make scheduling easier, eliminating bye weeks.

But that is among more than half-a-dozen scenarios administrators will consider.

“There are lots of possibilities,” Smith Billing said. “It will be interesting to see what other leagues have thought of. Are they amenable to the same things we are?”

At today’s NBL meeting, Lemmon will present principals with an overview of the proposed move and they will begin discussing possible reconfigurations. Local athletic directors discussed it Tuesday.

“I was very pleased with our ADs,” Smith Billing said. “The focus was what would be best for the kids: good competition and not having to drive hours and hours and hours.”

Principals and athletic directors do not formally decide how leagues are aligned, but their input will offer the NCS alignment committee valuable insight.

It behooves school administrators at the league level to weigh in on the process now.

“Unless we have a process that all the schools meet and discuss it, it will be up to the (NCS) alignment committee,” Lemmon said.

The NCS, under the overarching CIF, includes the Marin-Sonoma-Mendocino Conference, the Bay Area Conference, Bay Shore Conference, Coastal Mountain Conference, Humboldt-Del Norte Conference and Valley Conference.

Schools in those conferences are further aligned into leagues.

The NBL includes Cardinal Newman, Casa Grande, Maria Carrillo, Montgomery, Rancho Cotate, Santa Rosa, Ukiah and Windsor.

The SCL has Analy, El Molino, Elsie Allen, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Piner and Sonoma Valley.

Justin-Siena of Napa County plays in the MCAL with Branson of Ross, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, Novato, Redwood in Larkspur, San Marin out of Novato, San Rafael, Sir Francis Drake of San Anselmo, Tamalpais from Mill Valley and Terra Linda of San Rafael.

Napa and Vintage play in the Monticello Empire League. American Canyon is a member of the Solano County Athletic Conference.

Justin-Siena and St. Helena left the SJS in 2000 and joined the NCS. St. Helena is in North Central League I and plays schools from Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties.

Napa and Vintage were in the NBL until they moved to the SJS to begin the 1976-77 school year. American Canyon has been a member of the SJS since it opened in 2010.

Lemmon said the NCS will look at mileage between schools, how competitive the programs have been compared to others and other factors to determine which leagues are most appropriate.

The NCS board of managers’ 54 members will vote on the request at its Tuesday meeting at Mira Vista Golf and Country Club in El Cerrito. A two-thirds vote is necessary for the move to be approved.

If it is, the league re-alignments will follow. Athletic competition for the new configurations would begin in the 2018-19 school year.

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