City Section football teams have much to be thankful for as they prepare for today's first-round playoff games.
The City playoffs traditionally began on the Friday before Thanksgiving. And because the Los Angeles Unified School District could not adequately staff games with supervisorial personnel on the Friday after the holiday, second-round games are played on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
The earlier start this year, an idea proposed by the City coaches' association, will give players an extra day to recover and coaches an extra day to prepare.
That's the good news.
The bad news could come Friday when 10-week grade reports are issued. The timing of grade checks changes each year depending on the date that students begin their school year. The last time the eligibility check occurred the Friday after--rather than the Friday before--the playoffs began was in 1994.
Players who do not make the grade will be ineligible for the rest of the playoffs.
"On Monday, there could be some different looking teams than the ones that took the field Thursday," said Mike Walsh, coach of two-time defending champion San Pedro. "We're going to be fine, but there are always some schools that really take a hit.
"When that happens before the playoffs begin, you can adjust. But when it happens one game into the thing, with a short week before the second game, you're in big trouble."
Nevertheless, City coaches are prepared for one of the most wide-open tournaments in years. The 16 strongest teams in the section are competing for the City championship, formerly known as the 4-A division. Teams ranked 17-32 are competing for the Division championship, formerly known as the 3-A.
Championship games will be played Dec. 11 at the Coliseum.
Top-seeded Granada Hills, which won three games over the previous three seasons, has been revitalized under veteran coaches Darryl Stroh and Tom Harp, who had been out of football since 1993 and 1994, respectively.
The Highlanders, who won the 1987 title under Stroh, are 10-0 and play Jefferson (7-3) tonight.
Second-seeded Venice (10-0) will try to ride the arm of quarterback J.P. Losman to its first City title. Losman, who will graduate in February and begin classes at UCLA in time for spring practice, has passed for 2,974 yards and 44 touchdowns.
"Granada Hills and Banning are pretty strong, but there isn't a weak team in the tournament," said Venice Coach Tony Chretin, whose team plays host to Woodland Hills El Camino Real (5-4-1).
Dorsey (7-2-1), co-champion with Banning (7-3) of the Southern Pacific Conference, is the third-seeded team. The Dons, who last won the title in 1995, open against Granada Hills Kennedy (7-3).
Fourth-seeded Sylmar (7-2-1) is hoping a nonconference schedule that included Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Newhall Hart and Antelope Valley will pay off when the Spartans play host to No. 13 San Pedro (6-4).
Palisades (7-3) is the top-seeded team in the Division playoffs. Belmont (6-4) is No. 2, Van Nuys (7-3) No. 3 and San Fernando (6-4) No. 4.