Joe Davidson

Prep notes: Sac-Joaquin Section office named after former commissioner Pete Saco

The Sac-Joaquin Section names its Lodi headquarters for former commissioner Pete Saco, seen here Division V basketball championship at Sleep Train Arena, Friday March 7, 2014.
The Sac-Joaquin Section names its Lodi headquarters for former commissioner Pete Saco, seen here Division V basketball championship at Sleep Train Arena, Friday March 7, 2014. sacbeephotos@sacbee.com

The joke was Pete Saco was delayed because he was signing autographs, mugging for photo shoots and shaking hands as a man among the people.

In truth, he was delayed by the dentist, but that trek from Placer County to Lodi did nothing to dull his spirit or dim his grins on Wednesday.

More than a year into retirement as the Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner, where for 21 years he was tasked with overseeing realignment for member schools, dealing with undue influence and transfer issues and enforcing sportsmanship on the championship stage, Saco returned to the office a humbled man.

The building was formally named in his honor, and a man known to boom of good cheer was moved.

“You can see the impact Pete has had on so many people and this section,” second-year section Commissioner Mike Garrison said. “I’m a product of Pete’s work. Our section is much better off after your time here. This is an appropriate tribute.”

Scores of Saco’s old coaching and administrative friends attended the ceremony, and it became a bit of a roast.

You can see the impact Pete has had on so many people and this section. I’m a product of Pete’s work. Our section is much better off after your time here. This is an appropriate tribute.

Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Mike Garrison on his predecessor

“All the decisions you had to make over 21 years – and a lot of decisions that didn’t make some people happy – wasn’t easy, but you did it so well,” said Rick Francis, a retired Sonora High School basketball coach. “I think some would prefer the men’s room to be named after you. Seriously, Pete, you were such a mentor to so many athletic directors, and you had a vision so far ahead of everyone else, especially when people would say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that!’

“We salute you, we thank you, Pete. You’re the best.”

Saco’s vision included securing longtime deals with Sleep Train Arena for the section basketball tournaments, and he enforced good will and good sportsmanship by mandating that team captains and administrators from competing schools meet before the tipoff to go over conduct. His theme: Enjoy and embrace the experience, but don’t let boorish behavior sully our prime event.

Saco also hatched the idea of expanding the CIF State Football Bowl concepts, adding an Open Division game for elite programs in 2008 and then passionately pushing for Grant to be the Northern California entry. Grant responded with a victory over Long Beach Poly to give the section its first such state champion (Central Catholic, Escalon, Folsom and Granite Bay have since won titles).

Saco suggested and urged CIF sections to endorse and pass more football playoff expansion, and got it. For the first time this fall, each section football champion in the state will advance to a regional championship game, unlike before when closed-door voting among section commissioners – breaking down data, results and strength of schedule – picked the teams.

“Wow,” Saco said when a cover was pulled off to reveal his name on the Lodi office. “I’m very humbled. The most important thing in my life has been loyalty, and my dad stressed it, and we stressed it here.”

Amid laughter, Saco shared stories of investigations, of crawling under his desk to see if the office was bugged. Saco and wife Barbara have traveled the world in retirement, slipping in golf at every turn. Saco will still offer a hand for championship events.

“I’m still around,” he said. “I’m so glad it doesn’t say the Saco Memorial up there. I get to really enjoy this then.”

Inspirational winners – Liberty Ranch limped to an 0-4 start, suffering one close setback and then three routs. Then real life took over.

The 9-year-old son of coach Warren Schroeder was diagnosed with lymphoma, a devastating bit of news for the Schroeder family and the Hawks football family. Interim coach Kevin Tibetts took over, and the Hawks took off.

With Schroeder tending to young Timmy and visiting practice when he can, Liberty Ranch has peeled off victories over Rio Americano (40-21), El Dorado (34-25), Cordova (28-26), Union Mine (35-21) and Rosemont (20-12), the latter victory clinching at least a share of the Sierra Valley Conference.

The Hawks close the regular season at Galt (3-6) and can lock up the league title with a victory. Liberty Ranch is a run-heavy team, averaging 252.9 yards a game behind Ibn Frazier, Kamil Jones, Saul Lomeli and Gavin Westlund.

More mojo – Pleasant Grove has been similarly motivated to compete for coach Jason Rossow, who missed last season while undergoing brain cancer treatments and has been an inspiration in his return. The Eagles secured a playoff berth with a 35-14 victory over Sheldon in Delta League play behind running back Darren Chism and safety Dawson Weber.

Chism scored three touchdowns, and Weber caught two touchdown passes from Jake Ford and returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown.

QB leader – Jake Jeffrey runs with purpose, reading his way along the offensive line and then taking off. The Folsom senior quarterback also is a smooth passer, and his arm and legs propelled the top-ranked Bulldogs past No. 3 Oak Ridge 35-21 to lock up the Sierra Foothill League championship.

Jeffrey accounted for all five touchdowns as Folsom inched closer to its fourth consecutive 10-0 regular season and extended its winning streaks to 40 in the regular season and 25 overall.

Jake was dynamite. He completely took over the second half. Jake’s got competitive greatness. He wants to compete, and he has the will to win like no other. He wants the ball. He wants to be the guy to put that exclamation point on wins.

Kris Richardson, co-coach of No. 1 Folsom, on Bulldogs quarterback Jake Jeffrey’s performance against No. 3 Oak Ridge

“Jake was dynamite,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “He completely took over the second half. Jake’s got competitive greatness. He wants to compete, and he has the will to win like no other. He wants the ball. He wants to be the guy to put that exclamation point on wins.”

Del Oro hope – Del Oro, a playoff mainstay with two CIF State Bowl appearances since 2011, has a chance to extend its season after a roller coaster ride of emotions and results.

Del Oro (3-6) can lock up the final Sierra Foothill League berth with a win over rival Granite Bay on Friday in a regular-season finale. Del Oro’s record is misleading, as it lost on last-play touchdowns to a Hawaii-state powerhouse and Bay Area monster Bellarmine of San Jose, with a three-point setback to Oak Ridge as well.

Section playoff qualifying criteria include league wins and league placement. Del Oro won’t miss a playoff spot for playing such a brutal nonleague schedule – including a loss to preseason national No. 1 De La Salle – as long as it takes care of business in the SFL. That’s happening.

Stone Smartt passed for 236 yards and three touchdowns, two to Trey Udoffia, in a 24-7 victory over Woodcreek.

Woodcreek (5-4) started 4-0 and 5-1, much like last season, but has lost down the stretch to Rocklin (38-3), Granite Bay (28-21) and Del Oro. The Timberwolves can lock up a playoff spot with a win over Folsom, no easy task since the Bulldogs last lost to a section team in 2011.

Foothill fire – Foothill coach Tim Trokey has said that it will take a big victory to kick-start his program. How about two?

Foothill, after some lean times, may have discovered what it has in the closing weeks of the season after beating Lincoln 69-62 and Colfax 56-33 in the last two weeks. Foothill (3-6) opened 1-6. DeMariea Woodard had touchdown sprints of 77, 60 and 49 yards, and quarterback Vernon Robertson rushed for three scores against Colfax. Trokey was a standout halfback for Nevada Union in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

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