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Going South : State Basketball Championships to Be Played in Orange County for the First Time

March 18, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is more at stake this weekend at the Pond than championship rings and basketball memories. Southern California is hosting the state basketball championships for the first time since 1983, and only the second time ever.

Only one Orange County school will be playing for a championship: Laguna Hills faces Newark Memorial for the girls' Division II title Friday night.

The last time the tournament was played in the south, there were only three championship games--in Divisions I, II and III--and they were played in the Los Angeles Sports Arena; however, there was little interest.

"Basically, nobody attended," Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley said. Added state basketball advisory committee member Ray Bell: "It was a financial disaster."

In February, 1996, the CIF executive council approved alternating the state basketball tournament and the state track and field championships between Northern and Southern California.

"CIF would like fans across the state to be able to see both championships," said Jim Duel, CIF sports information director. "It seemed unfair that northern track teams always had to travel south. This was a way to balance it."

However, if Southern California is to share in the financial spoils of hosting the state tournament [CIF has an option to return it to the Pond in 1999], it will have to prove it can draw a crowd.

Average attendance the last seven years has been 20,234 for the two-day, 10-game event, with a high of 22,613 at Sacramento's Arco Arena in 1992 and a low of 18,204 at Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1994. State officials likely will take a dim view if attendance falls off sharply this weekend.

"Basketball pays for a lot of what we lose to put on track and [girls'] volleyball [state championships]," Bell said. "What would be considered a successful tournament is hard to say. If [the revenues] are within what was projected, I'm sure the state would be pleased. If they fall well below, then they would have to take a look at it."

Attendance for the five Saturday Southern California championship games at the Pond was 10,918. The attendance figure for the five games at Cal State Fullerton was not available from the state offices in San Rafael.

The total was lower than officials expected. But this year's tournament had a unique problem, according to Dave Zirkle, Orange High athletic director and state basketball advisory committee member.

"One problem for the evening Division I sessions, is we had only three schools," Zirkle said. "Crenshaw, both in boys and girls, Narbonne and Mater Dei. That cost us about 25% of the crowd we could have had if there had been a fourth school selling tickets and bringing people to the Pond.

"But I think we can get 15,000 for the 10 state tournament games."

Would that be enough?

Margaret Davis, CIF associate executive director, hopes the state executive council does not judge everything by how many people show up this weekend.

"To me, success is not a budgetary question," Davis said. "It's having a fabulous venue, treating the kids and schools in an appropriate fashion and giving the fans an exciting and well-managed accessible state championship. That's what we've done."

*

Four years ago, Davis said the state office, which was then located in La Mirada but is now in Burlingame, began receiving inquiries about the possibility of bringing the tournament south.

Davis liked the idea, but didn't know if she and Southern Section officials could persuade the state executive council to loosen the North's hold on the tournament.

What helped was the Pond was ready to open (in June 1993) and has been the site of the Southern Section championships, and the Southern California championships since 1994.

Pond General Manager Brad Mayne said the Southern California championships was among the first five contracts negotiated by the arena's management. He said Pond officials were eager to host the state tournament but understood CIF had a multiyear contract with the Oakland Coliseum. The first available dates were in March, 1997, if the state council would agree to a change of venue.

An added boost for Southern California's hopes was the renovation of the Oakland Arena, which was to begin this year, making it unavailable.

In reaching its decision to alternate championship sites, the state executive council's reasoning was twofold:

* CIF does not consider track and field a team sport--for example, one individual can qualify for a finals event--and does not reimburse athletes for their travel expenses. The track championships were always in Southern California, meaning Northern California athletes had to incur higher expenses to compete.

Those finals, which have been a staple at Cerritos College since 1988, will be in Sacramento this spring.

* The Pond gives Southern California the kind of major venue the state executive council wanted: A state-of-the-art facility that could attract people to the event whether their team was playing or not.

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