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Kicked out by the CIF?

State governing body’s proposed bylaw revision would force soccer players to choose between high school and club teams, meaning local schools could struggle to field squads
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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A proposed revision to a California Interscholastic Federation bylaw would force soccer players to pick between playing for their club teams and suiting up for their high school squads. And while the proposal has already created a major stir statewide this spring, the choice would be obvious for many prep standouts in the foothills. “When I first heard that, my thoughts were I’m not playing high school soccer,” Del Oro High junior Rachel Sloss said. “If that’s the case, the girls soccer program at Del Oro is going to fall apart. It made me mad, because why not do both?” The Bay Area Conference of the North Coast Section proposed the revision to its board of managers in early February, CIF senior director Ron Nocetti said. The conference claims club soccer programs operating during winter months take athletes away from high school sports during that season. They also contend in a Feb. 5 memo to the CIF Federated Council that athletes “are overextending themselves and playing as many as 12 soccer matches per week, practicing 2-3 days per week after a school practice.” Currently, CIF Bylaw 600 prohibits soccer athletes from competing with an “outside” team only during the winter prep season. The bylaw hasn’t affected the sport at local high schools since, in the Sac-Joaquin Section, boys soccer is played in the fall and girls take the field in the spring. According to an agenda for the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section board of managers April 28 meeting, the bylaw revision “would mandate that students could not compete on an outside team in the sport of soccer while competing for their high school team, regardless of the season in which soccer is played.” “It’s a big issue because teams who currently play in the fall and the spring where they would be able to do both would no longer be able to do that,” Nocetti said. “It’s an issue for student athletes.” While high school athletes participate primarily for school pride on the pitch, club competition is far more fierce. Players often battle for spots with Olympic Development Programs, which many coaches consider the key to college scholarship offers. Since more than half of athletes on some high school rosters play both levels, a bylaw revision could turn the section’s top conferences into virtual recreation leagues. “That would be sad,” said Robert Ruzette, who coaches the Colfax High boys and is president of 49er United Soccer Club. “I have two kids who are now in college and I think the most fantastic experience in high school is high school and anything affiliated with high school. Club soccer is fantastic but there’s nothing like high school soccer. “The percentage of kids who succeed in club soccer to become an ultra soccer player is so minute, for you to give up that high school experience isn’t worth it,” Ruzette added. “If you’re trying to create soccer robots, play club, but if you’re trying to create the complete person in a young man or a young woman, play high school soccer. I just hope that most kids don’t think about the soccer too much but consider the high school experience. The year you remember most is your senior year.” Placer girls coach Steve Cook didn’t catch wind of the proposed revision until late last week, more than two months after the CIF’s initial reading. “It’s ridiculous,” Cook said. “I’m flabbergasted. They’ve overstepped their bounds. “Our athletes have the right to play both sports. The CIF should have no say in the matter whatsoever. In fact, they should encourage the kids to play club and represent their school. It’s a shame that they’re getting involved. There are a lot of kids out there who have this pride and want to represent their high school because it’s their high school. By taking that choice away from student athletes, it’s really violating their rights.” Cook is one of several area coaches who make accommodations for their club players. “A lot of coaches are fully aware of the situation,” he said. “With high school and club, these coaches understand the wear and tear on an athlete. There are times where I’ll have walk-throughs as opposed to full-blown practice because I’m well aware these kids can’t play five games in a week without getting fatigued, and when they’re fatigued that’s when they get injured.” Del Oro head coach Ron Benjamin has coached high school and club teams in the Bay Area and Sacramento region for more than a decade. Benjamin, the girls director of coaching for Placer United Soccer Club, has also made compromises. He ended club play two weeks early to avoid conflict with the high school season. “It doesn’t do anybody any good, from the high school or the club perspective,” Benjamin said of the CIF’s proposed revision. The Sac-Joaquin Section will vote on the proposal at its meeting at Elkhorn Country Club in Stockton later this month. Each of the section’s 26 leagues gets two of the 55 votes, while the current and former presidents and president-elect each receive a vote. That vote “will tell the section’s representative how to vote on that at the Federated Council meeting,” said Will DeBoard, section director of communications. That representative’s vote at the Federated Council meeting May 7 at the Embassy Suites in Sacramento counts for 18 of the council’s 137 total votes — the second-most of any section in the North. While the CIF Southern Section has the largest say with 36 votes, a bylaw revision wouldn’t affect its athletes, since the section is one of several in the state that already plays soccer in the winter. “It’s status quo for them,” Nocetti said. Next month’s decision will be made by majority vote. “Even if the Sac-Joaquin Section says we’re for this, it still may end up getting voted down,” DeBoard said. “We don’t know how the section is going to vote.”