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From the moment three Napa County high schools were formally accepted into the North Coast Section in April, it was clear the family trees of the North Bay, Sonoma County and Marin County leagues would be shaken up.

The shaking has begun. And the fruit is beginning to fall.

At the realignment workshop Monday involving principals, athletic directors and some coaches from all 28 schools affected by any league reconfiguration, there was a feeling of watching the sausage being made. And this meeting was just a workshop to test the waters on various proposals before a vote in August sends the top choice to the NCS Alignment Committee and then the Board of Managers.

But the occasional flying spark Monday points to the import of any decision.

Sports matter. Winning records matter. Those pennants in the gym? They matter and not just in ways we like to espouse like teamwork, camaraderie and work ethic.

Sports also matter because school choice has made students and their parents consumers. Families shop for the right school, the right fit. And for many families, sports programs are instrumental in where they decide to go.

Get dropped into a less-competitive league or with a program that doesn’t stand out in the postseason, and a school’s enrollment can start to slide.

The last time leagues were realigned around here was in 2012, when Windsor and Casa Grande joined the NBL and Piner and Elsie Allen moved to the SCL. Those were minor tweaks compared to what is being considered now.

Sixteen proposals were considered Monday, including one that was created on the spot as a sort of hybrid between other plans. Dubbed “Ukiah 1,” the hybrid got the most support by far and will be one of three plans that this same group will consider in August.

Now, there is much to like in Ukiah 1 (so named because it was floated by Wildcats principal Gordon Oslund), but there are clear winners and losers in the proposal.

Losers? To some extent, Casa Grande, Petaluma and Sonoma Valley get the short end of this deal for reasons that all point to geographic proximity. Sonoma County’s southernmost schools would join newbies American Canyon, Napa and Vintage, along with Justin-Siena — the school that emerged from Monday’s meeting as the long-distance stepchild that the MCAL never wanted.

In five of the six proposals put forth by NCS Monday, Justin-Siena was removed from the MCAL while the rest of the league remained untouched. In the 10 proposals floated by member schools (none from MCAL), six plans called for the removal of Justin-Siena only and four involved deeper tinkering.

“None of the proposals on the table are affecting MCAL, but they are affecting us,” Ukiah’s Oslund said.

Not quite. Moving Justin-Siena out of the MCAL will reduce the average mileage that Marin schools have to travel for competition from 16 miles to 10. Win for MCAL.

Don’t think it all didn’t ruffle some feathers Monday.

So let’s leave MCAL out of the discussion for now, because for all intents and purposes they seem to be out of the discussion.

The frontrunning plan calls for three leagues: the new southern Sonoma/Napa league, the MCAL and essentially a combination of the remaining SCL and NBL schools — which would create what was called on Monday a “super league.”

There are positives to this super-league idea, which is probably why it got 25 affirmative votes.

First, it would be one league with two six-school divisions. The divisions would be based on competitive equity and the competitive equity would be assigned on a sport-by-sport basis.

Example: Elsie Allen boys soccer, co-champions the last two years in the SCL, would likely compete in the “A” division, but football might compete in the “B” division.

Those rankings would be reconfigured every two years.

The geographic proximity — one of only two criteria reps are asked to consider, the other being competitive equity — within the super league is hard to calculate because schools will be traveling to different opponents depending on the sport.

The relegation and promotion aspect of the super-league divisions would presumably add import to even the lower-tier games, if schools are either fighting to climb into the A division or trying to keep from being dropped to B.

And while vaguely mind-numbing, don’t think for a minute that all of this isn’t important. There is a reason things got mildly testy from time to time Monday afternoon.

There was clearly a feeling that MCAL is getting what it wants and NBL and SCL schools are left to put the rest of the pieces together. And as voting blocs go, the North Bay and Sonoma County leagues look to be out of luck.

There are eight schools in the NBL, seven in the SCL. The MCAL has 10.

Even so, democracy might be a fickle friend in this situation.

Without fail and without shame, each school will fight for the plan that is best for their kids now and going forward. As it should be. There are not a lot of ways schools can compromise here.

And no one is going to leave this process entirely happy.

Sonoma Valley Principal Kathleen Hawing expressed concern that the Dragons, at this stage, could not safely compete, on the football field at least, with a juggernaut like Napa High. Elsie Allen’s Casey Thornhill expressed chagrin that the current SCL teams were being treated as an also-ran. Others seem chagrined at what seems like the imminent departure of Sonoma Valley, Casa Grande and Petaluma.

And it’s reasonable for everyone to feel slighted in their own way, for their own programs.

These family trees are splintering, and while some good may come of it, everyone will likely have their own reason to be disappointed.

Tolstoy was right: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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