CIF executive director is retiring; he likes big venues, has opinion on signing parties

The wow-factor guy is ready to make more of his own wow memories, such as travel and family time with wife Karen.

Roger Blake has announced he will retire as executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, effective at the end of the academic year. He oversees the governing body for high school sports in this state. The CIF headquarters are in Sacramento.

“Yup, it’s time for Karen and I to enjoy the next step in our life and not have to plan everything around the sports calendars and school bells after all these years,” said Blake, 65. “It’s been an honor and privilege to serve the CIF, our schools and students.”

Blake is known for his enthusiasm, his transparency, his big-picture thinking on how education-based athletics can impact lives and schools and communities, particularly if done the right way.

Blake champions the underdog, pleads for fairness and sportsmanship, and he frowns on schools that break rules, bend them or flaunt in excess. He bristles at how high schools have increasingly celebrated bogus scholarship signing parties on campus, calling it a high school “arms race.”

This includes scores of student-athletes signing blank pieces of paper as walk-ons as high schools compete with rival programs to show who is moving more onto the next level, all played out through social media with an army of media in tow.

Blake beamed at having the CIF football upper-division finals at a bigger venue than a high school field, including four years at Sacramento State. And the overflow crowds in Fresno for state track. Or state wrestling in Bakersfield, or state basketball at Golden 1 Center.

“The wow factor is what we want,” he has said often, meaning, a kid enters the arena or stadium, pauses and goes, “Wow!”

For all of his accomplishments, Blake could not always work miracles.

The Northern California and Southern California Regional finals are Tuesday night at home sites (or, for the NorCal Open between Sheldon and Modesto Christian, at Cosumnes River College). It’s an odd feel.

For decades, NorCal finals for all divisions were held at Arco Arena. The last three years, the Open Division and Division I were held at one site with lower divisions at home sites.

Because the academic sports calender was moved up, the three weeks it normally takes to play out the NorCal and SoCal basketball playoffs has been condensed into two weeks, thus the oddity of title games. The CIF basketball finals will be March 8-9 at Golden 1 Center.

“The CIF will look into it and see if we’ll change it, see what people say,” Blake said.

The CIF will name Blake’s replacement in May. The challenges for the new boss will be immense, including how to deal with the rampant amount of transfers in Southern California, when kids and parents shop around and hit the road after the seasons end, sometimes to return to the original school to graduate.

The momentum of the success from the Northern and Southern California Regional title games in football will continue, where all section champions extend their seasons.

Blake has also been vocal about stressing safety in football, such as dialing down contact in practices.

The Open Division in girls and boys basketball has been a rousing success, too. It was created in 2013 to place all the powerhouse programs in one division, in effect preventing private schools from winning titles at all divisions.

Soccer, water polo and swimming are sports that now have NorCal and SoCal regional tournaments. Blake and the CIF don’t make the rules. They enforce the ones voted on by member schools. The CIF, like the 10 sections dotted across the state, rely heavily on member schools to make it all work.

Blake has been with the CIF since 1998, serving as executive director since 2012, and he has been delighted at the growth. The CIF in 1998 had 1,144 member schools and 584,590 participating student-athletes.

The totals now are 1,606 and more than 831,000 athlete participants, “a phenomenal growth of 42 percent,” he said.


St. Francis won the CIF NorCal Division II girls soccer championship Saturday at No. 3-seeded Mountain View 1-0 in overtime.

Lindsey Piatanesi scored for the Troubadours, who finished 23-3-4 and maximized new life. St. Francis placed second in the Delta League to Davis and lost to Whitney in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-II final. Davis lost the NorCal D-I title game to Monte Vista 2-1 on Saturday.

St. Francis is coached by Maryclaire Robinson, a 1986 graduate of the school.

Top-seeded Bellarmine of San Jose defeated No. 2 Jesuit 2-1 in the boys D-I final.

Chris Meyers scored for Jesuit, which finished 25-3-3 under coach Paul Rose, the state’s winningest coach in his 40th season with the program.

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.