Hometown Report

New Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Mike Garrison already has a lot on his desk

About the only idle time Mike Garrison has these days is when he drives home from work, though his brain is still in high gear.

So, no, the first-year Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner doesn’t prop his feet up on his office desk in Lodi office and admire his shoelaces. No time.

In overseeing the second-largest section of high school athletics in the CIF, Garrison had to hit the ground running when he replaced Pete Saco, who retired in August. Garrison regularly fields emails and calls – a nice way to say complaints – about football playoff seedings, sportsmanship, realignment, transfers and other on- and off-field issues.

For years, Garrison fielded similar inquiries at a different pace as an administrator at Rocklin High School and the Rocklin Unified School District. With 197 member schools, the section post is a much bigger bear to tame.

“Now you multiply it 100 times from what I was used to before because this is so much larger, so many schools,” Garrison said. “There’s stuff going on every single day. It’s fast-paced, crazy.”

Garrison’s most troubling case occurred Nov. 15. Seven Davis soccer players angrily confronted a referee in stoppage time in the Division I championship match against Oak Ridge at Cosumnes Oaks. The players were upset that a hand-ball violation was not called against the Trojans. Davis goalie Pablo Guarnizo shoved the referee, who issued a red card and blew his whistle to signal the match was over, with Oak Ridge winning 2-1.

The Davis administration suspended Guarnizo and six teammates for their actions. Guarnizo received a three-day suspension, Jesse Hopp, D.J. Villegas and Francis Avoce two days each, and Jovanni Morales and Mateo Sorrentino one day each.

Davis administrators worked with Garrison throughout the investigation. The Davis athletic program could face further punishment from the section office beyond a violation of CIF bylaw 210-A, which says any athlete who attacks a referee could be banned from CIF sports for the rest of the student’s eligibility. Garrison is drafting a letter of reprimand for Davis this week. He lauded Davis administrators for their efforts and punishment, stressing schools must work with the section office to best police actions.

“I was flabbergasted at what happened in that match, couldn’t believe it,” Garrison said. “We’ve all seen kids scream and yell in games, but I’ve never seen a kid put his hands on a referee. I cannot fathom someone going to that extent, and I’m extremely disappointed.

“It gives high school athletics a black eye. We preach, ‘Pursuing victory with honor,’ and sportsmanship, integrity. The actions of a few doesn’t override all the good things going on out there. I watched the water polo and cross country championships, and kids were helping others up. There’s a lot of good out there. And I have been very impressed with (Davis administration), how they jumped right on this.”

A concern that may soon hit Garrison’s desk is the alarming drop in student attendance at section football playoff games. After a regular season full of sold-out rooting sections, the $7 student ticket prices have, it seems, kept a lot of classmates away. Once-boisterous stadiums have largely gone quiet on game nights.

Garrison explained that football revenue is vital to the section office and slashing ticket prices now would create a domino affect.

“I know prices have been an issue before, but football is our largest revenue sport, and that revenue is how we function, how we live as a section, how we operate as an organization,” Garrison said. “We’re nonprofit, so we need that operational budget. There’s not a lot of wiggle room with tickets. That would kill our operational budget.

“Our prices are comparable across the state. I think students are paying $2 or $3 more per ticket than the regular season. I think also there are a lot of students in winter sports now, and some have college application deadlines and end-of-semester testing. There are a lot of other stressers on kids’ lives at this time of the year.”

Garrison attended the section volleyball championships Friday at UC Davis. The D-I final, in which Pitman of Turlock beat Pleasant Grove, ended near midnight. Sonora, the D-IV champion, didn’t get home until 3 a.m.

“It is late, and it is a concern, and it is something we need to look into,” Garrison said. “There are options, things to look into. We want to improve, get better, have continuous improvement for our section. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. What can we do to get better?”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.