I’m completely spit-balling here, so do not use the following as gospel. However, I’m beginning to believe we should be more and more prepared for any possible solution to aid in the return of prep sports in the fall. As I mentioned last week in my conversation with Tehachapi High School head football coach Doug DeGeer, we simply don’t know what the fall season may or may not look like.
I know the CIF Southern Section has gone on record to discuss “exploring all options” come the fall with a focus on league play and how many schools have returned for academics. There’s conversation that the CIF may just do that statewide, focusing on just allowing teams to play league games and not hosting section or state playoffs. Again, it’s speculative at this point. We haven’t heard much publicly from the Central Section, the governing body for most Kern County teams.
With that I mind I developed the following plan. Knowing a little about history in Kern County sports, as well as having covered high school athletics in both metro Bakersfield and the outskirts of Kern County, I believe we should have a Kern County plan if the CIF elects to do away with playoffs in the wake of COVID-19. While I can understand their position wanting to stay unified statewide, it’s apparent that COVID-19 just hasn’t impacted Kern County like it has some of our neighboring counties, and our kids should be able to compete outside of their league.
First, I believe the Kern High School District is both large enough and capable of being their own governing sports body. They have shown this with very large and very successful pre and postseason tournaments in recent years. While not all high schools in the county are members of KHSD, their influence and ability to work with other districts would make them the natural leader in this endeavor. They have the resources and brain power to make this work.
Second, do away with the current league structure and return to a geographic model for placing every team in the county into four leagues, splitting both metro Bakersfield and the County schools into four leagues. Here’s how that would look. “Metro East” would consist of Bakersfield, Foothill, East, Highland, Mira Monte, South, Garces, Golden Valley and North. “Metro West” would be Bakersfield Christian, West, Stockdale, Centennial, Independence, Ridgeview, Liberty and Frontier. Highway 99 would serve as the dividing line.
For the county schools it gets a tad trickier since Mojave, Frazier Mountain and Maricopa all play 8-man football, but for the sake of making this easy to understand, here is what the leagues could look like from a football perspective. “East County” would include Tehachapi, Burroughs, Desert, Rosamond, Kern Valley, Boron and California City. “West County” would be Taft, Wasco, Shafter, Delano, Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, and Arvin. This gives both leagues seven teams for football; for other sports simply add Frazier Mountain and Maricopa into the “West County” and Mojave into the “East County.”
For football, this proposal gives each team a minimum of six league games to play and revives geographical rivalries that have been dismissed in the current state of local sports.
When it comes time for playoffs, the format is simple; the top four teams from Metro East and Metro West and West County and East County enter into a three-week playoff bracket with the coronation of a “Metro Bakersfield” champion and a “County” champion. If you wanted to get crazy and host a Superbowl of sorts between the County and City champions, that could be interesting as well, but that isn’t necessary. This proposal works for other sports, too, with some minor adjustments including potentially playing each team twice to double the number of league games.
There are a few challenges to work through, but I think returning to the simplicity of geographic lines as it was at the dawn of prep sports in our area is a great place to start. I frankly would be excited to see Kern County focus on which team is actually the best in their area. It’s always seemed odd to me when I see teams separated by just a few miles each claiming a CIF Championship because they aren’t in the same division. I say let’s fight it out locally and get back to good old-fashioned bragging rights.
This isn’t perfect, but should the CIF start to move away from playoffs or alter seasons for some Kern County teams due to the fact that their league opponents reside in the currently locked-down Los Angeles County to our south, this could be their only salvation for normalcy on game day. For the rest of us, it’s just a chance to restore some sort of local control to a statewide chaotic situation. If it grows legs, then great. If not, at least I can say I tried.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.