Joe Davidson

Pete Saco still has key role at CIF championships

Former Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco retired two years ago, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t stayed busy.
Former Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco retired two years ago, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t stayed busy. Sacramento Bee file

It’s been a busy week for Pete Saco, even though he retired as the Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner two years ago.

On Tuesday at Lincoln Hills, Saco had his first hole in one. On Thursday, he was in typical full-speed mode as the tournament director for the CIF championships. Saturday’s five games will be the last ever at Sleep Train Arena.

“I’m retired,” Saco insisted, “but this is fun. This is the easy stuff.”

Then on Sunday, Saco will return to Sleep Train to present the Sacramento Kings Foundation’s Pete Saco Awards, given to area high school basketball players and coaches who exemplify his vision of achievement, character and sportsmanship.

“Amazing how one swing of the club changed my whole week,” Saco said. “I had to buy everyone a round, but that’s OK. Then we went to the Italian Club in Lincoln, and I got a standing ovation. How cool is that?”

The Saco award winners were announced Friday:

▪ Pete Saco Scholarship Award: Kelsey Wong, McClatchy. The senior set the tone on offense and defense for the Lions, and the 4.7 grade-point-average student mentored at local elementary schools.

▪ Community Impact Award: Sacramento High boys team. The Dragons visited children in area intensive care units and worked with the Sacramento Food Bank to assist those in need.

▪ Lifetime Achievement Award: Ron Pucci, former Colfax boys basketball coach. Saco’s favorite story about Pucci, who coached the Falcons for 35 seasons, is about what happened when Colfax reached the NorCal finals in 1999. Someone on the Colfax bench called a timeout the team didn’t have in the closing seconds. The technical foul helped the other team win.

“How Ron handled that, even now, with such class in such a hard defeat, tells you everything you need to know about the man,” Saco said.

Venues needed – The CIF and the Kings agreed to a deal for Golden 1 Center to host the 2017 and 2018 CIF state finals, but venues are needed for the section and Northern California Regional playoffs. Golden 1 Center will host NCAA Men’s Tournament first- and second-round games next season.

Cal hosted the CIF finals last season but did not bid this year. CIF executive director Roger Blake is disappointed colleges have not submitted competitive bids.

“Why are the colleges not embracing championship high school events?” Blake said. “It’s a great way to get a lot of kids on your campus, and it’s not a recruiting violation. We’ve looked into that. Makes no sense.”

The CIF paid the Kings $25,000 annually to play title events at Sleep Train Arena. Terms are similar for each of the next two seasons at Golden 1 Center. Some colleges, Blake said, wanted to charge $30,000 or more.

“Are you kidding me?” Blake said. “We’re not going to a college venue for more than what the Kings offer. The NCAA sent letters to college programs and encouraged them to get involved with high school events. We’re here, and we’re waiting.”