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Some Little Known Facts About
The Oakland Section Of CIF--(Nov. 13, 1998)

We got an e-mail from a friend up in the Bay Area last week, who came across the following article in the ANG group of newspapers (Oakland Tribune, etc), and it revealed some interesting things.  Such as the little known fact (at least among SoCal fans and players) that there are only 6 schools in the entire section, and that it consists of only one league.  Some of the historical underpinnings for the section's existence are contained in the article, and the gist of the inquiry, which has been brought up about every seven years is whether to "merge" the league into the North Coast Section, which contains most of the other leagues and schools in the East Bay area.   Anyway, this controversy is interesting, and the article should be a must read for anyone interested in the governance and functioning of the CIF.   Here it is:

Oakland Section's fate on line
OAL considers merging with NCS

Wednesday, November 04, 1998
By Josh Suchon

OAKLAND -- Decision time has arrived for the Oakland City Section. Should it stay or should it merge? The next few days will begin determining the future of the 56-year-old section, as Oakland officials must decide how to address growing concerns about its viability as a section within the California Interscholastic Federation.

For years, the tiny size of the Oakland section -- six schools, one league -- was an issue. But now, the fallout from a high-profile eligibility case last March involving a Fremont High basketball player poses the most serious threat yet to the OAL's stand-alone status.

In a Sept.1 memo to the Oakland Section, CIF Executive Director Jack Hayes expressed concern about  the OAL adhering to CIF policies. Five times during the four-page memo he asked if Oakland can still function as a section -- or even wants to remain a section.

"They may wish to remain a section," Hayes said recently. "If so, then the concerns in that letter need to be addressed ... "I'm not expecting anything but cooperation. I'm not extremely concerned at this point. But we do want to get a reply from Oakland before the (CIF) executive meeting (Thursday)."

Tonight at the Oakland school board meeting, board member Noel Gallo will recommend establishing an independent committee to assist in making this crucial decision. Gallo wants public hearings in which coaches, parents, students, administrators and others from the community can discuss whether the OAL should remain a section.

If Oakland officials elect to dissolve the section, the most likely scenario is a merger with the North Coast Section, whose 142 schools include five private high schools in Oakland. If Oakland officials decide to keep the status quo, the CIF has a list of eight questions it wants answered -- or else the CIF could intervene. How soon would the decision take affect? "The timetable I had in mind was next year," Hayes said. "If it takes longer, we'll take longer -- we just want to do things right."

Hoops fiasco raises concern

The final straw triggering the CIF's challenge to the Oakland Section was an eligibility controversy eight months ago involving the OAL boys basketball champion, which ultimately led to a delay in the NorCal playoffs.

An OAL eligibility committee declared Fremont player Armond Wainright ineligible. All games he participated in were forfeited, knocking the Tigers -- the regular season champs and a highly rated team in the state -- out of the OAL playoffs. An Alameda County judge later upheld this decision. However, the Oakland school board -- in a closed-door meeting that violated the Brown Act -- reinstated Fremont into the playoffs, literally one hour before the championship game between McClymonds and Oakland Tech. The winner of that game, McClymonds, boycotted a one-game playoff against Fremont.

Lou Jones, the OAL Commissioner from 1981-1993, said the problem was the school board didn't understand its role."They think they run the section," Jones said. "The section is run by the high school principals. It's right in the handbook. They can change that. But right now, it's run by the high school principals. What they say, goes -- no matter what the board does."

Jones said current Commissioner Jerry Luzar -- who declined comment for this story -- did his job, "but he was overruled by the board." The overruling meant two teams were champions: McClymonds on the court, Fremont off the court. Ultimately, Hayes and counsel Andrew Patterson decided the player was ineligible and recognized McClymonds as the champion. "This circumstance ... certainly threatened the integrity of CIF competitions and its design," Hayes wrote in his letter to Oakland.

Other sections much bigger

Long before the Wainright saga, the size of the Oakland Section has been a concern -- particularly to those in Southern California, who point out Oakland athletes have too easy of a path to state competitions.With six teams and only one league, Oakland is by far the smallest section. Next closest is San Francisco City (10 schools). The other sections dwarf those two: Northern (66 schools), North Coast (142), San Joaquin (121), Central Coast (112), Central (73), Southern (482), Los Angeles City (55) and San Diego County (74). "There is general concern about the size of the Oakland Section, and the fact that it's one league only,"  Hayes said. "This is a very small league and section."

NCS Commissioner Paul Gaddini said recently he's open to discussion of a merger. "NCS is on record, three times over the last 15-20 years, of supporting a merger of our two sections," Gaddini said. "We carefully selected the word 'merge,' as opposed to something like 'taking over' that section. The last time we discussed this, about five-to-seven years ago, there wasn't an interest by the Oakland Public Schools to give up their section. That's worked fine for them, and that's not a problem with us."

If the six OAL schools joined the NCS, however, there is no guarantee they would always remain in the same league.  "In my tenure in this office, we've never guaranteed a district, or group of schools, to be placed in the same league," Gaddini said. "On the other hand, if we merge two sections, it might be appropriate for a time being to keep (the OAL as) a league. We have to look at what's in the best interests for all the students."

The best interest of Oakland students is why the OAL became its own section in 1942.

"Smaller is better organized," said Jones, a former McClymonds principal who worked with the OAL and CIF for over 25 years. "The competition in Oakland was just as strong as elsewhere. In some sports, we never had been able to go to state meets. Here, we were selected to go to state meets no matter what. The advantage is our youngsters had a chance to compete against the best." As time went on, merging Oakland and NCS was discussed. Each time, the Oakland schools turned it down.

Transfer rules questioned

Jerry Wiggins, an Alameda County Board of Education member who also sits on the NCS' school board, said an issue always has been governance. "How things are run in the OAL is always in question," Wiggins said. "The flexibility that allows the   inner-district transfers within schools is something that many people question."

Wiggins said the timing of NCS' realignment makes sense for a merger.  "There is a reluctance to join," Wiggins said. "But the question must be  asked, 'Has the autonomy outlived its usefulness?' That pride may need to take a step back to   reality."  Gallo, the key figure in Fremont's reinstatement last March, wants as much  public input as possible.

"My own personal feeling is we need to consider that since NCS is  reorganizing itself (for the 2000-2001  school year), this is an opportunity for Oakland," he said. "We can stop  this infighting with each other and trying to destroy each other just to reach the championship."

Even if the OAL chooses to remain a section, it must deliver many answers  to the CIF -- and it will be  under tight scrutiny in the next few years. "We're not looking for one answer," the CIF's Hayes said. "It's not a  trap. We just want to make sure the  section can function within our governance body."

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