Friday, May 29, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 13

Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on February 8th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 49

Santa Maria valley high schools change CIF sections


Sweeping change came to the Santa Maria Valley’s athletic landscape as five out of the six area high schools were approved to leave the California Interscholastic Federation’s (CIF) Southern Section and join the CIF Central Section.  

Pioneer Valley’s wrestling team won the school’s first CIF championship last year. The team hopes to repeat that achievement after moving to the CIF Central Section.

Starting with the 2018-2019 athletic calendar, 13 local high schools—that’s five from Santa Maria and eight from San Luis Obispo County—will join the CIF Central Section and begin participation across all levels of athletics, the CIF Central Committee announced on Jan. 23, after approving the change.  

Orcutt Academy, Pioneer Valley, Righetti, Santa Maria, and St. Joseph will all make the change. Valley Christian Academy is the only Santa Maria Valley high school to remain in the Southern Section. 

In addition to the approved schools in Santa Maria, all eight members of the Pac-8 conference will make the move, including Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Mission Prep, Paso Robles, and San Luis Obispo. Morro Bay, Nipomo, and Templeton rounded out the list of SLO County schools making the change to the Central Section, which consists of just more than 100 schools.

The CIF Southern Section is a massive, high-profile conference with around 600 teams. The boundaries of the section stretch from south of Los Angeles to the northern end of SLO County. That boundary will move south some 30 miles, while the three high schools in Santa Ynez and Lompoc will stay in the Southern Section. That will prove most problematic for members of the Los Padres League, who now find more than half of their non-football members in what amounts to a separate conference.

The CIF sections are designed to organize schools into geographical regions. There are currently 10 sections encompassing all of California: the Northern Section, the North Coast Section, the Sac-Joaquin Section, the San Francisco Section, the Oakland Section, the Central Coast Section, the Central Section, the Los Angeles City Section, the Southern Section, and the San Diego Section.  

The other way sections are delineated is by enrollment, but that method is largely antiquated. The original thought was that large schools and small schools should be separate, since the large schools would typically enjoy an advantage. This viewpoint was widely accepted, and most states’ high school athletics were broken into divisions based on enrollment.  

St Joseph’s football coach Dustin Davis said that the CIF section change has created some problems in scheduling non-league games.

The CIF used a competitive-equity-based model for at least 15 years, with part of the model including enrollment and geography. However, last spring, the CIF Southern Section council passed a new model, explained CIF Southern Section Media Director Thom Simmons. 

“This new competitive equity model is based on data and not based on geography or enrollment,” Simmons said. “We have a new system that takes those two equations out. Data is based on on-field or on-court competitive success over the previous two years.”

The data includes, but is not limited to, overall record, strength of league, non-league schedule, and any data that could be tailored to the individual sport, Simmons explained.  

Each sport is assigned an administrator to oversee the data collection and processing, which take into account all factors, including overall success of the individual sports programs. Sports administrators are also provided with an advisory committee that gives input on how the data is processed but have no input on division placement. The intent of the new system was to give schools that previously had little chance to win a better opportunity to be competitive.

For some local coaches, the past system wreaked havoc on their athletic programs, with each school playing in several different divisions depending on the sport. Individual sports often saw their division fluctuate on a year-by-year basis.  

According to St. Joseph’s athletic director, Tom Mott, the Knights have 22 varsity sports that were placed in divisions ranging from Division 2 to Division 7. This spread among divisions was not uncommon among the Santa Maria schools.  

Pioneer Valley also has 22 varsity sports, and Athletic Director Greg Lanthier confirmed that teams participated in five different divisions as well last year. Santa Maria High School Athletic Director Brian Wallace stated that the school’s teams participated in 23 varsity sports, and last year they were spread out among 12 different divisions.

The change will still come with some challenges too, explained St. Joseph’s football coach, Dustin Davis.

“The problem is that we don’t know what division we will be in next year until probably May or June when they decide and do all of their adjustments,” Davis said, “and that is too late to schedule.”

The Righetti water polo team has won five CIF Southern Section championships since 1998 and was included in the Division 1 playoffs this past year

The delay creates conflicts when scheduling tough opponents for non-league games, Davis said.

The reactions on the change vary, depending on school, sport, and coach. Righetti’s water polo team has an extremely successful program, having won five CIF Southern Section championships since 1998.  

This past year, the water polo program was placed in the Division 1 playoffs, and co-coach Rob Stone relished the opportunity to compete against the best. 

“Speaking about our team specifically, we wish we were not going to move,” Stone said, “because the water polo is the best in the United States right in the Southern Section.”

The lone Santa Maria school to remain in the CIF Southern Section, Valley Christian Academy, didn’t experience this same issue. The school only fields six varsity teams and has an enrollment of around 50 students. As a result, they are typically in the lowest divisions in the Southern Section, explained the school’s athletic director, Pete Fortier. For the time being, Fortier is happy with both the conference and their current league.

“I am content with the Southern Section right now and so was the league,” Fortier said. “Maybe down the road we will take another look at the change. We play more schools in the Southern Section than the Central.” 

Contact Jason O’Neill through Managing Editor Joe Payne at

Weekly Poll
How would you like to see transportation officials try to make highways in the Santa Ynez Valley safer?

Add biking and walking paths along the highways to keep pedestrians away from traffic.
Reduce speed limits near certain intersections.
Build more roundabouts.
It doesn't matter. Caltrans won't do anything about it.

| Poll Results

My 805 Tix - Tickets to upcoming events