The Metropolitan Conference’s oldest member bowed out of its signature venue in style on Wednesday night.
People young and old filed into venerable Dave Hotell Pavilion in Oak Park, providing a festive feel for a girls basketball game that would decide league and city bragging rights. McClatchy High School beat host Sacramento 51-42, the night punctuated by a player who started her athletic career in this gym with the Dragons and finished as a visiting Lion.
Richelle Turney turned the game into McClatchy’s favor with a flurry of 3-point shots in the third quarter, then hobble-skipped off the floor after turning an ankle in the fourth. But she wasn’t about to miss the rest of the action, perched on a trainer’s table beyond the far baseline, fighting back tears. This meant something to her.
Sacramento will compete in the Metro for spring sports, but none of those activities resonate quite like football or basketball. Realignment will shift the Dragons into a revamped Capital Athletic League next fall in an effort to maintain a semblance of competitive balance.
This will be a nice fit for the Dragons in football with budding new rivals in established Capital Christian, Christian Brothers, Del Campo and Vista del Lago. With up-and-coming El Camino and Rio Americano also in the mix, it will be one of Northern California’s top Division III leagues. Sacramento habitually crushed Metro football foes, with scores such as 70-0, 65-0 and 62-0, in 2017 en route to an 11-2 season. Change was needed.
The Dragons boys basketball team will find competition in the CAL after storming through the Metro unbeaten again, this time under second-year coach Earl Allen, and CAL members will be moved by the charm, history and hospitality of Hotell Pavilion. But the Dragons girls will tower over the CAL basketball scene. They will grow to miss the Lions.
Allen is a purist. He embraces tradition and is sorry to see the Metro breaking apart.
“I don’t like it, and I’ll miss the rivalry games,” Allen said.
The dawn of a new era brings the end of another.
Sacramento and McClatchy will not extend the Bell Game series, meaning for the first time in 80 years, the city’s two oldest schools will not meet in helmets and shoulder pads at Hughes Stadium.
The Dragons have overwhelmed the Lions in football for years, including 48-0 last fall. The days of Hughes Stadium filling up 20,000 strong for the Turkey Day game in the 1940s is a distant memory.
“It’ll be different but not playing them is something we decided to do because it just wasn’t competitive,” said longtime McClatchy athletic director Rob Feickert, a Sac High graduate.
The Lions, for years a regional girls basketball powerhouse, will be eager for competition in the new Metro. Dragons coach Michele Massari said she will not schedule McClatchy in the coming seasons, deeming it old news. Massari said she is a forward thinker and will continue to schedule ambitiously, including out-of-state tournaments and national No. 1 Mitty of San Jose.
“We need to get out of our comfort zone,” Massari said of no longer facing the Lions. “We want to continue to up our schedule and play teams like Mitty.”
McClatchy girls coach Jeff Ota was disappointed to hear this. Is Massari suddenly viewing the Lions as less than the Dragons? Did the rivalry become that heated? Ota is old-school Metro, having excelled at guard for the Lions in the 1970s.
“I love the old Metro,” Ota said. “It’ll feel a lot different now.”
Here’s hoping Massari reconsiders on scheduling. The region needs top-tier girls basketball games. It’s good for the sport, for memories and for gate receipts. And nothing tastes better than beating a rival. The Dragons will have no rivals now if the scheduling holdout holds.
Massari was disheartened that the Metro became so top-heavy. Burbank and Johnson forfeited games to McClatchy and Sacramento this season due to low numbers or to avoid getting blown out by 80 points.
The Metro, for all of its pride, has suffered across the landscape. There are no rivalry must-see games in football, unlike the 1980s with Cordova and Christian Brothers.
Sacramento and Burbank have this decade dominated the Metro in boys basketball, a far cry from when the league was as entertaining as it was competitive in the 1980s and ’90s with some of the region’s most colorful coaches, including John Copeland of Burbank, Ted Goodykoontz of Johnson, Bob Jones of Cordova, Ron McKenna of Christian Brothers and Sacramento, Harvey Tahara of McClatchy and Spider Thomas of Kennedy.
The football fortunes have collapsed for Metro members Johnson and Kennedy, and McClatchy has suffered, too, though coach Malcolm Floyd’s sheer exuberance has the Lions seemingly on the upswing. He is a Lions alum, saying, “for all this school has given me, coaching and teaching here is the least I can do in thanks.”
The new Metro will feature Burbank, Kennedy, Laguna Creek, McClatchy, Monterey Trail and River City. Monterey Trail figures to dominate in football, which concerns Mustangs coach TJ Ewing, who didn’t want to leave the Delta League. Grant will compete in the Metro for all sports except football, where it will play in the Sierra Foothill League. The Pacers a decade ago crushed the Metro in football to the point of wincing.
Farewell, Metro of old. You’re already missed.