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High Schools | FALL PREVIEW: SMALL SCHOOLS FOOTBALL

This Division Is Deep VI

September 12, 2002|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Until last season, when Lakewood Mayfair beat Suburban League rival La Mirada for the Division VI football championship, a team from the Sea View League had won a Southern Section title in nine consecutive seasons.

With the section realigning leagues and divisional playoff groupings, the Sea View League and Division VI are unlikely to see a trend of that magnitude.

Moving into the division will be the Miramonte League--which includes Division VII champion Covina Charter Oak and runner-up Hacienda Heights Los Altos, the 1999-2000 Division VII winner--and the Century and Empire leagues have been revamped and strengthened. Gone is the weakling of the division, the Golden West League.

"It's loaded," said Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley, whose team won section titles in 1994 and '99 as a Sea View representative but lost to La Mirada in overtime in a semifinal last season after giving up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. "Across the board, this is the most competitive division in the Southern Section."

Adding to the mix:

* Tustin, the strongest program from the Golden West, will join the Century League, along with Orange League power Brea Olinda, the unbeaten Division IX champion last season, and Placentia El Dorado. Santa Ana Foothill, a Division VI semifinalist last season, has moved from the Century to the Sea View. Gone from the Century and the division are Orange and Santa Ana Valley.

* Two-time Division XI runner-up Orange Lutheran moves to the Empire League, along with Placentia Valencia, to challenge traditional powers La Palma Kennedy and Anaheim Loara as well as Cypress and Anaheim Katella. Gone from the league and the division is Santa Ana Century.

* The Miramonte lost Diamond Ranch and Pomona but got Valle Vista League member La Verne Bonita, the 1999 Division IX champion. It becomes a five-team league, and coupled with the maturity of Hacienda Heights Wilson, it should be stronger than last season.

* Including Sea View teams, the division has seven schools that won eight championships in the last three years.

"You go Division I, Division II, and I think the next-best division is Division VI," Los Altos Coach Greg Gano said. "It's a tough division.

"Last year, we stumbled and could have lost in the first round to [San Gabriel] Gabrielino--our kids took some teams for granted--but if we do that this year, we'll get blown out of the water. I think that's where the difference is, the early rounds. You'll have people that can beat you."

Rob Wigod, the section's assistant commissioner in charge of football, said enrollment, competitive equity and geography played into the realignment, but he knows he put together a terrific division.

"There's a real mix, a confluence of different issues," Wigod said. "Brea is an outstanding program, Orange Lutheran has been successful at a [lower] level. You have the Division VII guys, plus the Division VI guys, and last year you had the Suburban League teams playing for the title.

"The opportunities and possibilities in this new Division VI are going to be very interesting to play out."

The championship game will also be played at Edison Field for the first time, largely because the division has had good attendance for title games in the past. Whatever championship matchup there is this season should be worthy of the venue.

Bonita wasn't the only Valle Vista League team to move into a new league. West Covina South Hills, the 2000 Division IX champion, was moved into the San Antonio League and placed in Division VII. That had Coach Steve Bogan breathing a sigh of relief.

"There's going to be some great playoff games in that division early on," Bogan said of Division VI. "Anybody who's honest knows Division VI is loaded and would be glad to be in a different division."

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