Oakdale's run of dominance in the Valley Oak League could soon come to an end.
That was the message delivered on Jan. 8 by the Sac-Joaquin Section’s realignment committee, which proposed sweeping changes to its seven-division, 27-league membership during a public meeting at The Reserve at Spanos Park.
The committee will convene four more times over the next four months, with their next meeting taking place on Jan. 29. A final proposal will be submitted to member schools and later the Board of Managers for approval in April.
The new realignment will officially begin in August 2014.
Among the changes discussed on Tuesday:
contraction of the Sacramento area’s Delta River League and DVC into one Division 1 league, currently renamed the Delta League;
restructuring the Central California Conference and Modesto Metro Conference;
and restoring competitive balance to the Valley Oak League and Western Athletic Conferences, of which Oakdale is the biggest piece on the board.
“You have to start somewhere and this is a starting point,” Oakdale football coach Trent Merzon said. “So we won’t get too excited over here.”
An original member of the Valley Oak League, Oakdale would move to the Modesto Metro Conference, which would become an eight-member, Division 2 league stretching out along Highway 99.
The new-look MMC would unite two of the area’s top football, wrestling and baseball programs in Oakdale and Buhach Colony. It would also include Atwater, Beyer, Grace Davis, Downey, El Capitan and Johansen.
Merzon can’t fathom the move.
“I’m a traditionalist. I love the Valley Oak League. I grew up playing in the Valley Oak League 25 years ago,” he said. “The thought of not playing Manteca High School, it absolutely saddens me to no end.
“The Valley Oak League without Oakdale is just the ‘Valley League.’ I can’t imagine not making that trip to Manteca, to East Union, to Sierra … I can’t imagine it.”
The Mustangs’ recent run of success forced the committee’s hand. Oakdale has won 11 section championships since the 2010-11 calendar year, including a D-3 football title and the inaugural Northern California Division 2 championship in the fall, and has a competitive equity number of 3.
“Hey, numbers are meant to be finagled. What exactly does it mean to have a competitive balance formula?” Merzon said. “Is the SEC going to vote out Alabama?
“Publicly, I would like to know what VOL representatives think about this,” he later added. “Right now, what’s being told to us publicly is that they want to stay intact. I would love to get East Union’s opinion … Lathrop’s opinion … Manteca’s opinion … Sierra’s opinion. If our league wants to stay intact, why would someone from the outside step in and try to split us up?
“This is not about winning. It’s about competing and coaching against schools that you have the utmost respect for. It’s about communities that have grown up playing against each other.”
Oakdale’s departure would be one of many to rip apart the Valley Oak League, a tradition-rich conference with some of the Valley’s more intriguing rivalries.
The youngest members of the VOL Lathrop and Weston Ranch would join the Western Athletic Conference in Division 4, creating a divide amongst the Manteca Unified School District’s schools.
Sonora, as expected, would become a member of the Mother Lode League, uniting it with the section’s other foothill campuses Amador, Argonaut, Bret Harte, Calaveras, Linden and Summerville. The Wildcats, with a projected enrollment of 1,050, would be the MLL’s largest school.
The move would limit the travel expenses incurred by the foothill schools. The average one-way trip would be 32.8 miles, according to the proposal.
Central Valley would rejoin the six-member Valley Oak League, and along with Patterson, would fill the voids left by Oakdale and Sonora. East Union, Manteca, Sierra and Kimball would remain in the VOL, and its teams would either compete in Division 2 or 3 playoff formats.
The football stalwarts of the Trans-Valley League Escalon, Hilmar and Ripon would go unfazed under the section’s proposal, but a new member would be introduced in 2014: Mountain House.
Ripon Christian would remain in the Southern League, which welcomes part-time member Modesto Christian and waves goodbye to Turlock Christian (Central California Athletic Alliance). Modesto Christian’s vaunted boys and girls basketball programs would compete at the Division 1 level in the Central California Conference.