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CIF Is a Mishmash of Sections, Constituencies


You hear it in the gyms and in chatter between kids each year when the playoffs roll around.

"We're going to CIF."

Actually, only playoffs like those at the Pond this weekend are considered true "CIF playoffs," because they feature teams from all over the state. The California Interscholastic Federation, the organization that governs the state's high school sports, is divided into 10 geographic sections, each with its own charter, administrative staff and way of conducting business and handling playoffs.

The Los Angeles Crenshaw boys' basketball team, for instance, is a 16-time City Section champion. The Cougars are seeking their eighth state title Saturday when they play Alameda St. Joseph, which has won three North Coast Section and two state titles this decade.

When the Southern Section Division II-AA champion Laguna Hills girls' basketball team defeated Brea Olinda last week to advance to the school's first state championship game, it knocked off a team that has won 10 Southern Section and five state titles. In Friday's state championship game, Laguna Hills plays Newark Memorial, the North Coast Section champion.

Each section is unique. The Southern Section, largest in the state, has nearly 500 schools, four times larger than the next-largest section. Its territory covers most or all of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and parts of others.

On the other hand, the Oakland section, smallest in the state, consists of only six schools. The San Francisco section includes 12 public schools. The Los Angeles City Section has 62. Those three sections are made up of members from the major metropolitan school districts serving Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Several San Francisco parochial schools participate in the North Coast Section, which has 142 members.

Other sections and their approximate number of schools: Central (73), Central Coast (111), Northern (67), Sac-Joaquin (139) and San Diego (81). This fall the state CIF opened two offices--one in Costa Mesa and another in San Rafael. Previously, the state CIF headquarters were in La Mirada.

Dividing the state into sections evolved from the humble beginnings of the CIF in a YMCA gymnasium in 1914.

"This thing evolved over time, not as any type of master plan," said John Tarman, assistant commissioner of the North Coast Section. "I don't think at any one point anyone said there was going to be just 10 sections."

Travel during the playoffs is a big concern in the Southern Section and this year the section put together regional playoff brackets. Travel is also a consideration for Northern Section Commissioner Darold Adamson, whose section's 67 schools stretch from the Oregon border to Northern Sacramento.

"It's not uncommon for some of the schools in our section to travel 200 or 300 miles to play a game," he said.

From time to time there have been attempts to form additional sections. Most recently, Orange County schools looked into breaking away from the Southern Section, but the move failed.

Seven years ago about half the schools in the northern portion of the North Coast Section tried to break away, but that attempt also failed.

In the 1960-61 school year, however, the high school superintendent in San Diego County successfully split from the Southern Section.

"Back then the Southern Section was even bigger than it is today and with travel for playoffs it placed a burden on the schools here," San Diego Commissioner Jan Jessop said. "The superintendents took a look at it and decided we had enough schools of our own to support a section."

San Diego's departure from the Southern Section is considered the biggest breakaway of all, but as the state grows, some officials say, the CIF may have no other option but to divide again.

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