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Cleaning Out His Locker

After more than 40 years in high school athletics, from coaching to administering the sports played in several hundred schools, Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley is calling it a career.


After 23 years as an administrator with the CIF Southern Section, the last six as commissioner, Dean Crowley is retiring at the end of the school year. A 1952 graduate of Alhambra High, Crowley, 64, began his career as a junior high school coach. He later was vice principal at Cerritos Gahr High, where he oversaw the athletic program. Crowley also was a high school and college football and basketball referee and a supervisor of officials for several organizations. Times staff writer Paul McLeod, who has followed Crowley's career for 25 years, had a conversation with the outgoing commissioner recently.

What was the most satisfying moment of your career:

Getting hired here 23 years ago was a big highlight. After acting as commissioner for a year, it was most satisfying when the executive committee named me commissioner in 1994.

What were your least favorite moments?

I didn't like dealing with some of the eligibility issues. We had a football team from Huntington Beach in the early 1990s and we had to go to the court of appeals to sustain our [playoff eligibility] rules. The other one that really bothered me was a couple of years ago when we had a black football player strike the [white] official. We had never experienced anything like that before and there were racial implications and overtones.

The time leading up to your hiring had been a controversial period for the section because your predecessor [Stan Thomas] was fired for financial irregularities.

It was a dark time. But out of that we developed strong financial controls and guidelines. When I came in as commissioner we had a deficit of $178,000 and now for the first time in the history of the organization we have $1 million in reserves.

How much did the rise in ticket prices during your tenure help build the reserves?

We haven't kicked up ticket prices too much. We haven't raised children's tickets for a long time. We have raised them on seats at our premium events at Anaheim Stadium or the Pond. But the bottom line is that we cannot continue to raise ticket prices or we are going to price the general public right out of wanting to come.

What's going to happen to that reserve?

I'd like the executive council to look at returning a portion of the reserve to the schools, but in my opinion, we need some reserves to take care of us in case we have a bad situation in football. About 30% of our $1.6-million budget is based on the football playoffs. If we had a real rainy season and poor attendance, that could cost us dearly. Rather than ask all the schools to divvy up more money if that happened, we can use the reserves.

We did spend some of our reserves on computers for the office recently and I made a recommendation a year ago to explore the idea of buying a building for new offices. We're renting the building we're in now and we've outgrown it. I can't get my entire executive committee into our conference room and there's no place to add on. If we buy a building, that's an investment for the future.

What about all the sponsors the section has signed deals with over the years to provide funds?

We need to continue to involve the corporate community, however, they should be channeled to [the local school level]. I hope the state or section never gets involved again with title sponsors, like "Reebok Shoes Championships." These are high school CIF championships. Nothing else. Nothing more. Let the corporate sponsors hang their banners and do their advertising in the communities. But I have a major problem with putting a title on a high school championship.

Any regrets, or things you're leaving behind that you couldn't get done?

We need to take a good look at releaguing. When I came on board, we had 460 schools, now we have 516, a 12% increase. But we had 52 leagues. Now we're at 73, a 40% gain there. Remember the old days when we had three and four playoff divisions? Those were neat. Now we average between five and 12 divisions per sport. I don't have a problem with that. We're giving more kids exposure to playoff competition, but I think we still need to look at the value of geographic playoffs.

One of the things that has bothered me more than anything has been open enrollment. To some, athletics is not just a game anymore. We have this mentality that we have to win at all costs. This overemphasis on winning isn't good for athletics in general. The open enrollment rule has contributed to that. We have so many transfers now and the ones I'm seeing are athletic transfers, and that's not what our kids are in school for.

What would you like to see?

I'd like to go back to what we had in the past. If a youngster transfers without a bona fide change of residence, he/she would be restricted to lower-level play for a year. That would stop some of this movement that is just for athletic reasons. For a youngster to leave a school that has a good academic program after three years and transfer during a senior year just to play a new position, that is not what our high schools are about.

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