Those who follow high school sports closely in the Santa Clara and Sunnyvale neighborhoods are probably aware of the two-division alignment for the various public schools in the area. The Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL) is made up of two divisions for each sport, the De Anza League and the El Camino League. Depending on the sport, different schools fall into the different leagues, but for each sport, the De Anza division is always the higher level division.
After each season though, the bottom-two teams in the De Anza League can choose to move down to the El Camino League. If that happens, typically the top-two teams in the El Camino League are forced to move up. In water polo, the 2017 El Camino Champion Fremont Firebirds were forced to move up despite the fact they were losing their entire 2017 starting lineup to graduation other than their goalie June Vanlerberge. This season the team’s record in the De Anza League was 0-7. They scored just 21 goals while allowing 105.
The team that moved down into the El Camino League was the Saratoga Falcons. Last year Saratoga went 0-12 in the De Anza, scoring just 34 goals and allowing 144. Perhaps in this case there might not have been any better solution to the problem of blowout scores in the De Anza League. The Falcons went 14-0 in the El Camino League this year, scoring 235 goals, while conceding just 65. But Saratoga lost in the final round of the El Camino playoffs, falling to second-seeded Harker, 5-4.
“I really don’t know how to make it more fair,” admitted Fremont Water Polo Head Coach Moris Clark. “The problem is you have a bunch of coaches in the De Anza who don’t know what the El Camino does. I actually do have an issue with Saratoga moving down. Saratoga has some fast swimmers and they have a bunch higher income bracket.”
Water polo isn’t the only fall sport with some contention as far as divisional placement. The decision to move up both second-place Cupertino and third-place Fremont in football, but not El Camino League Champion Santa Clara, is where perhaps the biggest controversy lies.
For most of the sports, it is relatively automatic that the El Camino Champion moves up if one of the bottom two De Anza League teams elects to move down. The only way this can be avoided is if there is a unanimous vote to keep the champion in the lower league. The voting process and formulas however, don’t appear to be perfectly clear.
Reached via text message, Santa Clara Running Backs Coach Pedro Martinez referred to it as a “crazy formula.” The formula in question is said by numerous SCVAL coaches to include the amount of graduating seniors from the varsity team and how well the junior varsity squads for each school performed.
When it comes to football, Fremont lost pretty much every key player from their varsity team in 2017, while Santa Clara returned two top-flight wide receivers. Fremont’s JV did go 6-0 in league compared to the Bruins’ JV finishing 3-3.
When reminded that Fremont lost the vast majority of their star varsity players last season to graduation and that the Bruins had two of their biggest stars returning for another year, Martinez responded via text: “I agree, I have no idea how we escaped [moving up].”
Down in the El Camino League, the Bruins are 4-1 in League this year, while the Firebirds are 1-4 in the De Anza League. Prior to winning their first league game against Homestead 24-19, the Firebirds lost games by scores of 56-0, 47-10, 44-11 and 59-7. The combined score over their five-game losing streak prior to the Homestead victory: 248-35. Cupertino hasn’t fared much better. They are also 1-4, losing to De Anza League juggernauts Palo Alto, Los Gatos and Milpitas by a combined score of 124-10.
SCVAL Commissioner Brad Matheany did not respond to an email request to be interviewed for this story.