The Sac-Joaquin Section held its first meeting of the realignment cycle on Tuesday, discussing possible changes to start in the 2024-25 school year.
The section’s initial proposal would have two Lodi schools moving to new leagues — Tokay would leave the Tri-City Athletic League for the San Joaquin Athletic Association, and Elliot Christian would move from the Central California Athletic Alliance to the Mountain Valley League.
Neither school’s athletic director (Tokay’s Jeff Johnston or Elliot’s Jason Gaither) was that surprised to see their school in bold on the proposal.
“When you look at our competitive equity vs. other schools in the TCAL, we are clearly not competing at the same level as Lincoln or St. Mary’s, and even Tracy and Lodi High,” Johnston said. “I was not surprised that we had moved. I was also somewhat happy, we had petitioned in the pre-realignment surveys to be paired with Lodi Unified schools and Stockton Unified schools.”
Gaither also felt the MVL would land Elliot in a good situation with respect to competitive equity. He was also looking hard at travel times and costs within the league.
“In the preliminary work we did, we put that we’re looking to reduce travel and play schools more our size. The schools they propose us to be in the MVL are more our size,” Gaither said. “It adds Lodi Academy and Stockton Christian, two of the closest small schools to us. Tioga is a bit of a drive.”
For the TCAL, the proposal would send Tokay and West (in Tracy) to the SJAA, bringing that league to eight teams. Edison would jump from the SJAA to the TCAL, and Manteca would join the TCAL from the Valley Oak League, keeping the TCAL at six teams (seven for boys basketball with Modesto Christian). Lodi High would stay in the new-look TCAL.
Lodi High athletic director wasn’t taken by surprise at Tokay leaving, but raised his eyebrows at Manteca and Edison jumping from Division III leagues to Division I.
“I think there was a lot of confusion. I think they’re trying to make a super league down here like they have up north,” Duenas said. “But for Manteca to jump two divisions entirely... They’re saying it’s not football related, but all I can see is football related.”
Both Lodi and Tokay were in the SJAA once — Tokay was a founding member of the TCAL in 2005, when a 10-team SJAA split in two. Lodi made the jump to the TCAL in 2014.
Duenas said the Lodi-Tokay rivalry games wouldn’t go away if the teams land in new leagues.
“Right now, what’s important is that all the student athletes are put in an equitable situation. We will find a way to make sure Lodi Tokay keeps the rivalry game, but what’s important is that all student athletes have a chance to compete,” Duenas said. “In the huge scope of things, it makes sense for us to separate right now. But we’ll always find a way to keep the Lodi-Tokay rivalry, because the community loves it.”
Johnston also said he felt that competitive balance is the top priority.
“I understand the section’s rationale for leaving Lodi and moving Edison over to the TCAL. They can compete better with those schools,” Johnston said. “At the end of the day, we feel this will give our student athletes a chance for success against teams more balance and on par.”
Johnston also made clear that this is just a starting point. The section will host meetings on Feb. 7, Feb. 28, March 7 and March 21 to gives teams and leagues time to counter-propose, argue and compromise.
“The section went through a pretty thorough process prior to yesterday’s meeting, soliciting imput on each school’s recommendations and preferences. I could see that to some degree in the product that was delivered as a draft,” Johnston said. “This process isn’t over, there was a lot of info for people to take in and digest, so as each league has their monthly meeting, there will be a lot of discussion.
“There’s a lot of ground left to cover between now and implementation.”
For the MVL, a Division VII league, Elliot Christian would arrive with Vanguard Prep, an independent school, to bring the league to eight teams.
The CCAA would see a lot of movement, with Ben Holt Prep and Hughes Academy joining from the MVL, Modesto Christian (without hoops) joining from the Trans-Valley League, and River Valley (a new school with freshmen only) joining from the VOL. Stone Ridge Christian would depart the CCAA for the Southern League.
“The hard thing with where we’re at right now, we have Venture, we’re probably not going to beat those guys,” Gaither said. “In basketball we usually stay pretty competitive, but we have to look at all our schools.”
Venture Academy has the largest enrollment in the CCAA, with 988. Elliot Christian has an enrollment of 86 this year. Gaither said Elliot used to have around 200, but enrollment took a dip in 2017, bottoming out at 50.
“Our last two classes were around 30, which is good. Our senior class is 10 kids,” Gaither said. “Basketball-wise it’s great, because most of the team is sophomores.”
Galt and Liberty Ranch are both untouched in the proposal, though the Sierra Valley Conference, to which both teams belong, would add Argonaut from Mother Lode League and Sacramento from the Capital Athletic League.
That would bring the SVC to eight teams: the two Galt schools, three Sacramento-area schools, and three mountain schools.