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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Southern Section basketball divisions kindle controversy

A new format concentrates many top private schools into what has been labeled a super-division with a few public schools. Some coaches grumble, but an administrator points out that previous formats were criticized too.

November 15, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • La Verne Lutheran, with 6-foot-10 Arizona-bound Grant Jerrett, is the favorite to win the 4AA playoff division this season.
La Verne Lutheran, with 6-foot-10 Arizona-bound Grant Jerrett, is the… (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles…)

The Southern Section has released its boys' and girls' basketball playoff divisions, and there are lots of winners and losers.

A new format that places schools in divisions based on a combination of their enrollment and a formula evaluating their last four seasons of performance has created controversy.

Because there's a 1,250-enrollment cutoff to compete in state championships in Division IV, lots of top private schools in the Southern Section have been put in Division 4AA for boys, creating what has been labeled a super-division.

Southern Section basketball playoff divisions

No matter how many championships they win, 4AA is the highest division they can reach because of the enrollment cutoff. And that means 4AA will become what some coaches are calling a private school division, even though there are public schools in the division.

In 4AA this coming season will be powerhouses La Verne Lutheran, Los Angeles Price, Los Angeles Windward, Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Westlake Village Oaks Christian, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, Gardena Serra and Encino Crespi. All have won section titles in recent years. Now they'll have to compete among themselves for one title. Lutheran, with 6-foot-10 Arizona-bound Grant Jerrett, is the favorite.

"It's definitely a super division if you want to call it that," Price Coach Michael Lynch said.

Said Crespi Coach Russell White: "I look at it as we had an easier run when we won in 2009. Now we're going to go through a gantlet. If we can get it done, it will make it more valuable."

One problem for coaches this season is that they already scheduled tournament and nonleague games not knowing which teams might be in their division. Price, La Verne Lutheran and Windward are all scheduled to face each other well before the playoffs.

"We have almost everybody on the schedule that's in the division," Lynch said.

The big losers are the public schools stuck in 4AA. Schools such as Big Bear, City of Industry Workman, Twentynine Palms, Malibu, Carpinteria, Laguna Beach and El Segundo will have little chance of competing for a championship. Of course, if they don't do well, they will be moved down a division based on performance in future years. Schools that succeed can't go any higher than 4AA because of the enrollment cap.

"When you look where we are, you got to be kidding," Big Bear Coach Bo Kent said. "Oaks Christian plays Division I football. Crespi plays Division I football. We're a mountain community. There's no way the CIF should put us with them. There should be a rural section or an Inland Empire section. We have talent out here. But smaller schools like us are not on par with private schools from Los Angeles County and Orange County."

Laguna Beach, which returns all five starters from an 18-10 team, will try to be competitive, Coach Bret Fleming said. But the challenge is daunting.

"As a small public school, you kind of run out of options," he said. "I don't cheat, and I'm not going to draw better talent than those guys."

In 1AA, private schools Santa Ana Mater Dei and Los Angeles Loyola will take on public-school power Long Beach Poly. Loyola won the 1A championship last season.

"The veil has been lifted," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said. "We have a good idea what we'll face."

There are also three separate divisions: 3AAA, 3AA and 3A. In 3A is Bellflower St. John Bosco, which could challenge for a championship under former Woodland Hills Taft Coach Derrick Taylor. It will have to get past Mission Hills Alemany.

Rainer Wulf, the assistant commissioner in charge of basketball, said the divisions should produce more competitiveness. As for those who are not happy about the divisions, he said, "If the coaches don't like the system, we can go back to straight enrollment, which they hate. We can go back to strength of league, which they hated even more."

This new format is a "hybrid" of previous formats, taking into account a school's enrollment along with recent success in basketball.

It's going to take some getting used to and it remains to be seen if this format will bring forth quality championship games in multiple divisions.

In girls' basketball, 1AA is clearly the best, with Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly, Brea Olinda, Orange Lutheran and Long Beach Wilson.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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