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Not by Popular Choice

High schools: Southern Section ruling eliminating move-ups in enrollment-based playoff divisions gets cold response from coaches.

March 30, 2000|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the 26-year history of Southern Section boys' volleyball championships, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, Newport Harbor, Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar have combined to win 50% of the top division titles.

On the girls' side, since section championship play began in 1972, those four schools have combined to win 22 of the 29 top division titles, with Mira Costa winning eight times and playing in 15 finals.

And in the 22-year history of state championships for the girls, the four schools have combined for 12 of the Southern Section's 17 state Division I titles.

But under a proposal approved last week by the Southern Section Council, which eliminates move-ups in enrollment-based playoff divisions, the four schools will be prohibited from playing Division I next season, given the current enrollment figures.

The proposal, to be enacted beginning with the fall playoffs of 2000, also affects baseball, basketball, cross-country, soccer, softball and tennis.

Under the rule, the Newport Harbor girls' volleyball team won't be permitted to defend its two consecutive Division I state titles and three consecutive Division I-AA section titles, unless the school's enrollment figure increases.

"This is ridiculous," said Mira Costa boys' volleyball Coach Mike Cook, who has led his program to three top-division section titles.

"We're a beach school and we don't want to compete against less than the best. Now you're saying we have to play in Division II? I'm not even sure we would want to win that championship."

Although the section's intent was to increase competitive equity within the enrollment-based divisions, the rule effectively spreads out the top programs.

"This discredits CIF competition," UC Irvine men's volleyball Coach Charlie Brande said. "The value of high school athletics is that kids can get the opportunity to play in a more competitive environment, play against the best. It's turning into AYSO, where everyone gets a medal. It started out with the enrollment divisions having the best teams play in Division I, and if you weren't at that same level, you could win a championship in a lower division. That's fine.

"But with this restriction . . . why not have the section just pair up the teams and have a hundred or so championship matches?

Kurt Kersten, the Anaheim Esperanza boys' volleyball coach, acknowledged that if the traditional powers didn't play in Division I, it would diminish the importance.

"It definitely would lessen the significance," said Kersten, whose team won the boys' Division I title in 1997 and defeated Mira Costa in the semifinals.

"When I look back at that season, I look at that Mira Costa match just as much as [beating Simi Valley Royal in] the finals."

Kersten also believes the proposal will eliminate the practice of teams that "shop from year to year" for a division they think they can win.

"I would be satisfied if the commitment to move up were for a longer term, say five years or so and not just one year," Kersten said.

Dan Glenn, Newport Harbor's volleyball coach, said the rule takes the fun--and challenge--out of the playoffs.

"You're not always going to win a championship, but that's not what it's about," he said. "It's about competing. I just don't understand the logic of it."

Proponents of the rule cite the recently completed basketball playoffs as a reason for the action.

The Lakewood Artesia boys' team, for example, last month won the Division II-A championship after choosing not to move up as it had done in the previous two years when it won consecutive I-AA titles.

"[The old rule] was unfair to large schools," said Jerry Halpin, vice principal at Los Alamitos. "A large school, like Los Alamitos, had no choice where it could play in the playoffs.

"A school like Corona del Mar, I didn't see their [boys'] basketball team move up to Division I, and they had a great season and got to the Division III playoffs. But now their tennis team could say, 'We want to be Division I because we can compete at the Division I level.' My school didn't get that choice."

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