he realignment of our local athletic leagues has surfaced as an important issue that will affect the culture of our schools and the social connections that our children make. While not an avid sports fan, I recognize high school sports as one of the defining features of comprehensive high schools, leading to school pride and identity, and fostering the formation of lasting friendships. Sports teams can be viewed as an intrinsic part of the school's personality.
In case you don't read the sports pages, let me fill you in on what has transpired. Watsonville High School has been voted out of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League and assigned to the Monterey Bay League. This cuts WHS out of the league of all the other comprehensive high schools in Santa Cruz County. Pajaro Valley High School was never in SCCAL, a situation that has not made big news since that high school has had only a freshman class to date. With the change in leagues, our local players will no longer compete in the league with rivals in Aptos or Santa Cruz. Our teams will not really be a part of Santa Cruz County sports. They will be competing with Monterey area schools.
As the light began to dawn on this plan, community members objected to the proposed division on the basis of the new SCCAL being less culturally diverse. This does get one's antennas up! I accessed the minutes of the Central Coast Section Southern Conference, where the decision was being made. The minutes clearly state that diversity was never considered a concern and the membership did not wish to make it one.
I have never been aware of any school district that has been divided by athletic leagues such that their comprehensive high schools do not regularly play each other. The camaraderie and the social connections such competitions foster will exclude Watsonville area high schools from the Santa Cruz County sports scene, sending the message to make friends in Monterey instead.
In sports, skill and heart work together and are recognized and respected far more than a person's background, race, and language. It is also on the sports fields that the gifted and the remedial students mix it up and learn to value each other's talents. Diverse sports leagues allow students to expand their friendships and get to know, work and play with kids they might otherwise never meet.
Many things have changed since I was a student. Teaching techniques have morphed over time. Standards and high stakes testing have altered the school experience. Languages other than English have become commonplace. But sports rivalries between local schools have remained. The feeling that these are our stomping grounds extends past ones' own high school to encompass your local athletic league. It is your greater community when you are a student. It is the territory you are allowed to cover in the family car when you become a licensed driver.
Now, when a decision goes against what you want, you can choose to make lemonade out of the lemons you have been given or you can protest. Last weekend on the sports pages, we read about the local coaches' reactions. It is apparent that the coaches are trying to make lemonade and I find that commendable. On the other hand, if this is a travesty of social justice, perhaps making the best of a bad deal would be to launch a protest.
I have several problems with the newly realigned athletic league. My strongest objections are that it divides our school district into two different leagues and excludes us from our county sports. Watsonville area schools are no longer to be associated with the county in which most of us reside and our schools are located. We are cut off from our Santa Cruz connections. One coach spoke about wanting to be in a league in which we are welcome. I would like all of us, including our students, to be welcome in our own county.
Sandra Nichols is a trustee and past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,700 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and a former commissioner on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication, or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2005