Los Padres League cuts all freshman sports

Freshman sports teams will be cut from schools in the Los Padres League next year in a budget cutting move.

But that should not have a negative impact at Morro Bay, Nipomo and Templeton high schools because of recent low enrollment and turnout for team tryouts, several coaches and administrators said.

The cuts, which were approved by a vote of principals at the league’s schools last month, stem from the state’s ongoing budget crisis and will be reviewed after next year, said league secretary John Andree, Morro Bay’s athletic director and head varsity football coach.

The development is the latest indication of severe fiscal challenges facing sports and other extracurricular activities at San Luis Obispo County schools, as pending proposals in the Paso Robles Public Schools district have called for coaching stipends to be eliminated, as well as sports transportation funding to be slashed by 50 percent.

“With what’s happening with (statewide budget) cutbacks, we wanted to be proactive,” Andree said of the timing of the decision, which is expected to save each school about $25,000. “We’re going to try this for a year and see how it goes.”

Templeton hasn’t sponsored freshmen sports since eliminating its lowest-level girls volleyball program two years ago. While the cuts are therefore essentially a moot point in Templeton, athletic director Phil James said, he didn’t envision other league members’ junior varsity programs gaining a competitive edge, and he sympathized with the league-wide measure.

“We’re trying to keep sports and get rid of levels,” instead of cutting select sports top-to-bottom, James said.

By condensing freshmen and JV programs into one, Andree said, schools will be able to start games earlier, thus allowing the lower-level team to save costs by traveling with the varsity. In recent years, Andree said, the league’s ability to widely field freshmen teams became sporadic, sometimes involving just three or four of the league’s eight schools (seven outside of football), creating costly scheduling problems.

Morro Bay’s enrollment is predicted to soon be less than 800 students, Andree said — a decline of a few hundred since the late 1990s. Morro Bay fielded freshmen teams in only football and girls volleyball this past year, and in football, Andree said, Morro Bay’s freshmen and JV rosters had thinned to a little more than 20 players each.

A similar trend took place this past season at Nipomo, Titans head varsity football coach Russ Edwards said, as the school didn’t field a freshmen team in that sport because of low turnout, instead electing to merge freshmen and sophomores into a more competitive junior varsity. Fielding two smaller, less competitive teams might’ve had a discouraging affect on players, Edwards said.

Cary Nerelli, in his 23rd year as Morro Bay’s varsity girls basketball coach, said that fielding three levels of competitive teams in his sport had also become increasingly unrealistic.

“I prefer to go without a freshmen team unless we have huge numbers (trying out),” said Nerelli, who has coached high school sports for nearly 40 years altogether. “And right now, the numbers just don’t justify it.”

Nerelli’s nine-player girls basketball team — which is second in the LPL standings and ranked No. 7 in Division IV-A of the CIF-Southern Section — includes four freshmen, a sophomore and one junior. Typically, Nerelli said, Morro Bay’s JV roster is capped at 12 players, but he wouldn’t be opposed to expanding team size because of the elimination of the freshmen level.

The sport at Morro Bay that might be affected most, Andree said, is girls volleyball, which usually receives a higher turnout.

PAC 7 not considering cutting freshman teams

The PAC 7 league hasn’t considered cutting freshmen sports across the board, league secretary and Righetti High School athletic director Eric Albright said.

The PAC 7 is made up of schools with enrollments that in most cases are about 2,000 students — a size twice as big as some Los Padres League counterparts.

“So far, in talking to (other PAC 7 athletic directors), it’s certainly not something any of us are looking toward,” Albright said.

Schools in the PAC 7 don’t feature freshmen teams in all of their varsity sports because of low numbers of athletes trying out. Paso Robles High, for example, sponsors freshmen teams in only football, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball and baseball, athletic director Mark Rose said.

“Some people have asked, ‘Why isn’t there a freshmen team in this, or this?’ ” Rose said. “But it’s a matter of, ‘Who are you going to play?’ Because none of the other schools have those sports (because of smaller turnouts).”

Occasionally, Albright said, some schools are unable to field freshmen teams in more popular, crowded sports because of low turnout (as was the case with Nipomo girls basketball this year, for instance), but such situations arise on a year-by-year basis.

“Every once in a while, it will pop up when someone just didn’t have the numbers to fill a team,” Albright said, “but it doesn’t happen very often."