I remember watching the Yosemite girls basketball team play early in the season and my first thought was, ‘Oh my, this is going to be a long season.’
As the season went on, each player and the team as a whole began to play better ... and better. I should have known that would happen because Coach Gary Blate has been making average players good players for the past 15 years at YHS.
This past season Blate hit two milestones - his 500th win in his 30-year high school coaching career, and 300th win in his 15 years with the Lady Badgers. Add to that his 13th league championship in those 15 years. He has four section titles on his resume.
It was a very successful season for the Badgers, especially considering the team’s top four scorers were sophomores - playing in junior high just two years ago.
The team was co-NSL champions with Kerman and received the No. 6 seed in the Central Section’s D-II playoffs. In the playoff quarterfinals, the Badgers upset the No. 3 seed Monache High (1,800 students) on the road in Porterville, before losing, again on the road, in the Feb. 28 semifinal round to No. 2 Bakersfield High (2,800 students) - one win away from the section championship game at Selland Arena.
Yosemite, with a student enrollment of about 700 (down from 1,250 10 years ago) found themselves, once again, playing a much larger school as Bakersfield has four times the students as Yosemite.
After beating Yosemite, Bakersfield played at Selland Arena, losing to another Bakersfield school, Independence, with more than 2,000 students and now the winner of three straight D-II championships.
People often ask why a small school like Yosemite is in a division with much larger schools. It’s called “competitive equity,” with specific sports programs being moved up or down in divisions by their past and current success, or lack of. The CIF Central Section has moved away from school enrollments and towards “competitiveness” being the deciding factor in what division a particular team (not school) plays in - a philosophy that seems to be taking hold across the country. The only sport enrollment is considered is football.
An argument can be made that the Yosemite girls basketball team is “penalized for its success.” There are many small schools (primarily private) that are in D-I or D-II due to their dominance.
All schools in the section are evaluated every three years using a point system adopted by the Central Section’s Board of Managers (with representatives from all schools) to determine if the specific program should be ‘realigned’ up or down.
Central Section officials justify moving teams up or down in divisions by “competitive equity” based on a team’s competitive history. But the Yosemite girls basketball team has remained in D-II six years after its last appearance in a CIF section finals. In contrast, Madera and Sanger High schools, both with more than 2,000 students, have played in the D-III finals and earned trips to the state playoffs over the past few years. The Central Section needs to re-address the division Yosemite should be in.
There is no doubt this Badger team would have had a better chance to win a section title if they were playing schools with a similar enrollment. But school enrollment in deciding what division a team plays in is not a factor like it was 10 years ago. Section officials feel what is more important is competitive balance in the section.
The Badger football team had success this past season for two reasons - more athletic players on the field, but more because the school pulled out of the competitive North Sequoia League, opting to play schools with similar enrollments. It made for more wins and less injuries - and two D-V playoff games - a combination everyone seems happy with.
And this season’s volleyball team, with nine juniors and four sophomores, went to the second round of the D-III section playoffs before losing to Mission Oak (1,500 students).
Both Lady Badger teams (basketball and volleyball) will give fans plenty to cheer about next season. They will come back more experienced and more dedicated than ever. It would be nice to see them play smaller schools in the playoffs, but that will not happen until those programs have a dramatic decline in competitiveness - which we do not see happening.