Cambrian: Opinion

Size disadvantage doesn’t quell Broncos’ fighting spirit

Chase Volz delivers a pitch during a playoff game at Coast Union in May.
Chase Volz delivers a pitch during a playoff game at Coast Union in May.

Authors often go to great lengths to promote their books, and those lengths can be geographical.

This past weekend, I ventured forth from Cambria to visit a place called Ridgecrest, 250 miles away via automobile but seemingly light years removed in nearly every other way.

While temperatures here hovered in the 60s and low 70s, my car thermometer hit triple digits in Ridgecrest. While the marine layer blanketed Cambria’s Lodge Hill, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky over the Mojave Desert.

I’d never been to Ridgecrest before; I’d never had any reason to visit. The weekend trip was to talk about and read from my novel “Memortality” to about 20 writers assembled for their monthly meeting at a church there.

I had a blast.

One thing Cambria and Ridgecrest have in common is they’re both somewhat isolated. Gas at Gorda, north of Cambria and now cut off from it by the Mud Creek Slide on Highway 1, gained a modicum of fame (or infamy) in the past for selling the most expensive in the nation. Gas sold at a middle-of-nowhere outpost called Jawbone Canyon on Highway 14 south of Ridgecrest was similarly pricey: $4.89 for regular unleaded this past weekend.

A sign at Inyokern, which appears to be Ridgecrest’s only suburb, proclaims it’s “100 miles from anywhere,” and there’s little reason to doubt it.

On our way to Ridgecrest, we passed a sign that pointed to a place called Boron, which is — despite what the sign at Inyokern says about its 100-mile distance from “anywhere” — less than 60 miles away from there. But Boron might not qualify as “anywhere” to most people: It’s an unincorporated blip on the map that’s about one-third the size of Cambria.

But it does have a high school. Actually, it’s a junior-senior high school combination with an enrollment of about 250, a couple of dozen more than attend Coast Union High School in Cambria.

I recognized the name Boron on the sign because Coast Union’s baseball team had been involved in a playoff game there just a week earlier, losing 10-0. Coast had nothing to be ashamed of. The Broncos had gone undefeated in their own league and had reached the CIF Southern Section Division 7 quarterfinals by winning two previous playoff games.

Traveling 250 miles to Ridgecrest took 4½ hours, plus stops, after which I was grateful the writers club that had invited me to speak there was paying for an overnight hotel stay. I was bushed. Members of the Coast Union baseball team are quite a bit younger and, I have to assume, more resilient. But it can’t have been an advantage to travel all that way (Boron’s only about 20 miles closer than Ridgecrest) and then have to play a baseball game.

This wasn’t the first time it had happened. In 2014, the Broncos endured a five-hour trip to Riverside for a semifinal game they lost 11-10 in 90-degree heat.

This year, the Coast Union boys basketball team lost to a team from the Sherman Indian boarding school in Riverside after making a five-hour bus trip and barely getting there in time for the semifinal game thanks to Southern California freeway traffic.

They lost to Sherman Indian by just five points, and although the team made no excuses, playing on the road after such a long trip could have accounted for the difference. What’s worse is that the Broncos came into the semifinal game as the top-ranked team in the division, but had to play on the road because they lost a coin flip.

The baseball Broncos had to play at Boron based on the same random exercise (although, in fairness, got to host the second-round game based on a coin flip as well).

Problem No. 1: Coast plays in the far-flung Southern Section, which encompasses a geographic region that stretches from the coast all the way to the Mojave Desert and San Bernardino County. Problem No. 2: It’s hard for small schools to find opponents of similar enrollment to compete against. Hence, Coast often ends up pitted against far larger schools — and losing by large margins. That was part of the problem for the football team this year, which won two of its four league games after being outscored 213-15 by larger schools in nonleague play.

The softball team similarly turned things around with an undefeated league season after going 1-10 against larger schools.

It’s testament to the athletes’ character that they come back fighting after such lopsided defeats. They’re anything but quitters. But it also points up a major problem with how the state’s athletics are organized. Higher-seeded teams shouldn’t be subjected to a coin flip when five-hour bus rides are at stake.

And should teams even be traveling five hours to face one another in the first place? Several schools from the Central Coast pulled out of the Southern Section just this year and realigned themselves with the geographically closer Central Section, which includes schools in the San Joaquin Valley, not the High Desert and Inland Empire.

Coast Union wasn’t among them. Because of the school’s small size, the Broncos probably would have had an even harder time finding teams of comparable strength to play in the smaller Central Section than they do in the south — even if they do have to travel four or five hours to play them.

Knowing the character of the kids at Coast, I doubt the athletes there are complaining about any of this. They probably had as much fun playing in Boron as I had giving my talk in Ridgecrest. But that doesn’t mean the situation’s optimal, or that they don’t deserve props for making the most of it.

So here’s a tip of the cap to this year’s Broncos. They’ve earned that, and more.