For the past decade, there have been five fall sports in the Alameda County Athletic League. Athletic directors have enjoyed one-season wonders such as Alameda High’s football team, and also have struggled through that season due to the limited competitive depth and quality teams within the league.
San Leandro’s boys and girls basketball teams and in 2016 and 2017, competed in the OAL playoffs.
In 2016, San Leandro had a team that finished with a 1-15 record. But in 2017, the Pirates’ boys and girls teams went 20-5 and 11-6, respectively, and advanced to the league title games. The Pirates won the OAL title and went to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinals.
“I know that for every one good year, I always hear there is a one bad year,” San Leandro principal Louie Cipollo said. “For us, if you are on the football side, you are going to struggle. We were the only team in this county to win an OAL title.
“As a principal, you would like to avoid a situation where that opportunity is not afforded to all schools in the county. If there is going to be a single A baseball championship in the county, why is San Leandro going to miss out? I just would not support that position.”
The debate of whether to expand fall sports is most prominent in the OAL, where only three sports currently compete in all five fall seasons. The other fall sports are boys water polo in the OAL, and girls tennis in the Tri-County Athletic League, though both of those fall sports are starting their second season. The other four fall sports in the OAL are baseball, cross country, girls volleyball and girls tennis.
“It would be a great idea,” said San Leandro boys water polo coach Ted Calvert. “I think it would just give a whole bunch of schools a chance to compete and give schools and leagues the opportunity to share resources. I love the idea.”
Alameda, San Leandro, Albany, Hayward, Union City and Windsor went 4-3 in the boys water polo playoffs last year.
“I was there as a volunteer back when we were only playing girls water polo,” former Los Medanos College women’s water polo coach Joel Merten said. “I can remember some of the girls water polo games I used to coach in the late ’90s and early 2000s and the girls were playing against players that were probably maybe 6-feet, 6-inches tall. I really thought there were going to be some tough teams. It is kind of crazy how much we struggled, and our teams were very similar to one another.”
In terms of playing strength in the OAL, “Baseball has a lot more players,” Colonists baseball coach Dan Wilkins said. “There are more decent pitchers. My one issue with water polo is the size of the pool and the depth of the pool. We haven’t played basketball since we lost in the section playoffs (in 2016). There has been a dearth of athletic players.
“Wrestling has always been a small program and the few (county) teams were beating the others, so that was out of necessity. Still, once in a while, we will come up with an athlete that just stands out.”
The track and field and cross country track and field and cross country programs have been in existence in Alameda County for years.
“Cross country has been a tradition since before I was born,” Colonists cross country coach Antonio Menter said. “I don’t have a problem with moving it up because there is so much field running. Track is a little different because it is your jumps and jumping. I am sure track is the most analyzed sport. I think a couple of teams could move up if it was done right.”
One of the proposed changes is to consolidate swimming and water polo in the OAL, leaving fall track and field as an exclusive OAL sport. But despite Calvert’s worry about a lack of athletes for some sports, Wilkins is confident that his Colonists baseball program could fit in with some other fall sports in the OAL.
“With our baseball program, if we had everyone playing another sport, we could probably count on 100 kids and still field a good baseball team,” Wilkins said. “I could see it being a challenge, but I think we could get by it.”