CHESTER, Calif. — There's a simple quality to life in this Northern California community on the north shore of Lake Almanor near the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's an attitude that plays a large part in nearly everything the townspeople do.
Here on the banks of the north fork of the Feather River, Darold Adamson uses that simple approach as the new commissioner of the Northern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for the state's high school athletic programs.
Like other commissioners in Northern California, Adamson favors a decentralized commissioner's office that cedes the athletic administrations of individual leagues more power to make decisions that directly affect them.
That philosophy goes with the territory, because a majority of the schools, like most of the communities here in the northern part of the state, are separated by hundreds of miles of rugged terrain and hours of travel time.
"Up here we want everything as uncomplicated as possible," Adamson said.
Five hundred miles to the south, Stan Thomas should have it so easy. Like Adamson, he recently became a CIF commissioner, but of the state's largest region, the Southern Section, which encompasses the largest urban area in the state.
After the reign of five previous, strong-willed top administrators, the Southern Section has grown accustomed to placing much of its decision-making process in the hands of the commissioner. With nearly 500 schools, it has been called "almost a state in ourselves" by outgoing Commissioner Ray Plutko.
The unusual structure of the CIF--and its management--is unparalleled in the nation.
"There is no other state like California," said Brice Durbin, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Assns.
Since its founding in 1914 in a Los Angeles YMCA, the CIF has grown to encompass 1,127 member schools. It is the nation's second largest high school athletic federation. Only Texas (1,157 schools) is larger.
But California, unlike other states, is divided into 10 semiautonomous zones or sections. Over the years the sections have grown into philosophical islands, each with problems unique to the portion of the state each occupies.
The sections range in membership from six schools (in Oakland) to 474 in the massive Southern Section. Each is allowed to establish its own procedures and regulations within loose bylaws handed down from a state office in Fullerton.
State Commissioner Thomas E. Byrnes, a former Southern Section commissioner, says he acts "as a cover for our organizations."
The state office "is the gladiator in the arena," he said. "This system has worked very well for 70-some years."
Some of the differences among sections are severe. For instance:
Three sections--Los Angeles City, Oakland and San Francisco--are composed entirely of schools from those cities' high school districts. The commissioner in each is a district administrator.
In San Diego, Commissioner Kendall Webb answers to an executive committee composed of the area's high school superintendents. In other regions, including the Southern Section, the supreme governing committee (their titles vary by section) generally is composed only of high school principals.
In the North Coast Section, Commissioner Paul Gaddini likes league councils to handle athletic eligibility problems. The commissioner passes a final judgment on a case-by-case basis only when asked by individual leagues. In San Diego, Webb insists on handling all eligibility cases for the section.
In conjunction with a handful of Nevada schools, the Northern Section hosts sectional snow-skiing finals. No other section in California has a skiing program.
"The philosophies vary greatly from section to section," Byrnes said. "There is a tremendous difference from north to south."
And nowhere, from north to south, are the differences more magnified than here in Chester, where Adamson runs the second-largest geographic section (behind the Southern Section) as the state's only part-time commissioner. He replaces Gregg LeMaster, who died in January after heart surgery.
The Northern Section stretches from the Oregon border south to Marysville, from the Nevada border west to the Trinity Mountains. It has only 68 schools, but encompasses some of the state's best-known wooded areas, including Lake Tahoe and Lassen, Modoc, Shasta and Klamath national forests.
Adamson said he will be paid $11,400 next year, plus some fringe benefits "which I still have to negotiate."
"It's really a full-time job for a part-time wage," he said.
The base salary for Thomas, the Southern Section commissioner, is $50,808. The base rate for new Commissioner Hal Harkness of the Los Angeles City Section is $45,075.