Those epic Oakdale-Sonora football games may soon be replaced by Oakdale-Central Catholic.
Though it is unlikely that Central Catholic moves to the Valley Oak League, it was certainly in the discussion during the second of five possible realignment meetings hosted by the Sac-Joaquin Section Tuesday at The Reserve at Spanos Park Golf Course.
The proposed reshuffling of the VOL and Western Athletic Conference — two leagues with schools of similar enrollment sizes and competition levels — was a hot topic.
On Jan. 8, the section’s realignment committee unveiled its first proposal that had Lathrop and Weston Ranch leaving the VOL for the WAC, and longtime member Oakdale moving to the Modesto Metro Conference. The VOL would also add Patterson and Central Valley from the WAC to create a true Division-III conference. Sonora, with its dwindling enrollment numbers, would make its expected move to the Mother Lode League.
Lathrop Dean of Athletics Bill Slikker was among the more vocal opponents of the proposal. His chief argument against it revolved around longer travel for league games, saying that his teams would trek 508 roundtrip miles in the WAC compared to just 158 in the VOL. The extra travel time, he contends, could sway parents to transfer their kids from Lathrop to a school in Manteca because of lower transportation fees and closer road games.
Slikker added that the Manteca Unified School District wrote a letter to the section signed by principals from all five of its high schools — East Union, Manteca, Sierra, Lathrop and Weston Ranch — stating its desire to keep them clumped in one league.
“(SJS commissioner Pete Saco) and the committee are talking about competitive equity and trying to help us out by moving us to a lower-division league,” Slikker said. “I understand that logic, but going there isn’t going to make us more competitive, as far as I’m concerned. There are some schools with great programs (in the WAC) like Central Catholic and Los Banos, and Livingston is up-and-coming.
“I think that ownership should be with Lathrop High School (to be more competitive), and we’re in the process of doing that by getting new coaches and being more active in the community.”
Slikker also said that Lathrop’s small-sport teams, such as golf and tennis, would benefit more by staying closer to home. The school is struggling to field full teams in those sports, and longer travel, he said, would make it tougher for them to establish themselves.
Oakdale also made its case to stay in the VOL. The committee recommended that the Mustangs — who have claimed 10 section championships in the last two years — move to a Division-II based MMC because they have been highly competitive across the board.
The latest proposal has Oakdale, Lathrop and Weston Ranch all staying in the VOL along with the three Manteca schools and Kimball of Tracy, essentially keeping the league intact with the exception of Sonora leaving.
As for the possible addition of Central Catholic, which earned a California Interscholastic Federation State Bowl title this past football season, SJS Director of Communications Will DeBoard said it’s a long shot but will likely be further explored in the next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19.