Joe Davidson

CIF director deals with good and bad of prep sports

West Campus Warriors head coach John Langston holds the trophy over the heads of his players following the Division IV girls state basketball championship game with the Los Osos Grizzlies at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Saturday. The Warriors won the title 63-55.
West Campus Warriors head coach John Langston holds the trophy over the heads of his players following the Division IV girls state basketball championship game with the Los Osos Grizzlies at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Saturday. The Warriors won the title 63-55. rbenton@sacbee.com

Roger Blake deals with all of it.

The executive director for the California Interscholastic Federation sees, hears and feels the searing negative aspects that permeate high school athletics, a lot of it unfolding like troubled pages of a never-ending book. The CIF is the governing body for prep sports in the most populous state in the country, based in Sacramento. Some 831,000 students competed in prep sports last academic year.

Blake’s role is equal parts anxiety and concern and elation and pride.

“It’s absolutely a mixed deal,” Blake said, seated inside Golden 1 Center, site of the CIF State Basketball Championships. “There’s part of me that’s scared and worried about the future of high school sports with all the outside influences of club sports and AAU, and the unrealistic expectations of parents who think their kids are (Division I college) players and (second-guess coaches).

831,000Number of students who participated in prep sports in California in the 2015-16 academic year

“And the other part of me is energized at a place like this. I think, ‘It’s not about the adults. It’s about the kids and their experiences.’ Any time I lose faith of what’s happening, my wife (Karen) reminds that all these kids across the state are counting on us to have a good experience, to have fun, memories.

“We deal with so much negativity, about 50-percent of this job, but we know what we’re doing is important. It’s about the kids, for the kids. Look at that cheerleader over there and her smile. I get emotional about this. It’s important to all of us.”

Golden experience – The CIF finals will return next season to Golden 1 to conclude a 2-year contract with the venue, and then it’s anyone’s guess what happens from there.

CIF bids will go out to venues across the state, and for the first time, those bids will align with the CIF State football finals. The potential of having one championship weekend held in the South with the other sport finals in the North can finally become a reality, given favorable and fair bids, of course.

The CIF basketball finals were a mainstay at Arco Arena/Sleep Train since 1996 before this season, and CIF staffers have raved about the marriage with Kings executives who sign off on paperwork. The CIF football finals will be held at Sacramento State this fall after a three-year commitment (it was held in Carson in earlier years).

“We will reach out to venues and also contact the convention and visitors bureaus across the state like we always do,” said Ron Nocetti, the CIF Associate Executive Director.

Cavernous woes? – The Northern California Regional upper-division finals were held at Santa Clara’s cozy 4,700-seat Leavey Center last weekend due to the NCAA Tournament having a two-round stop-over at Golden 1. But will Leavey Center or any smaller venues such as Cal’s Haas Pavilion be in play for future CIF basketball events? Cal hosted the 2015 state finals due to a scheduling conflict at Sleep Train Arena, and the intimate setting left everyone buzzing.

Blake, the CIF boss, appreciates a smaller venue but strives for the big prize of Golden 1, which can feel cavernous, but that’s beside the point.

“No, no, this isn’t too big,” Blake said of the building. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone. The kids love it. The fans love it. Kids will look back someday and see a game on TV from here, an NBA game or the NCAA Tournament, and say, ‘I was on that floor!’ We hope to continue here. The Kings people, they’ve been fantastic. Always have. Two years ago, we knew we were coming here to Golden 1, and the Kings made a huge commitment to block out this weekend for us. We’re very appreciative.

“With bids, we need to make good business decisions with costs and expenses. We pay for the travel and lodging for every Southern California team that came here. That’s the business part. But more important thing is that ‘wow’ facto of playing in a place like this. There will be 12 games and 24 teams. What a lifetime memory. That’s why we want to be here.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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