By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter
June 8, 2022 ~ When the school year begins in August, athletic programs at Gahr, La Mirada and Norwalk high schools, as well as eight other schools, will be slightly renewed. The six-member San Gabriel Valley League and the five Suburban League schools will merge to form the new Suburban Valley Conference.
The conference will be divided into two leagues called the Gateway League and the Mid-Cities League. However, no confirmation on the name of the two leagues was determined at the beginning of June. In fact, when the main conference schedule was released, the 11 schools were placed in their respective leagues on a sport-by-sport basis based on the CIF-Section Sud power rankings for the 2021-2022 school year and have been placed in the Upper League or Lower League. Following the 2022-23 school year, Norwalk co-athletic director David Snyder said “everything will be considered” as to which leagues the 11 schools will be placed in, again on a sport-by-sport basis. .
According to Snyder, the merger talks have been going on for two and a half to three years and stem from the departure of Artesia, Cerritos and John Glenn High Schools when those schools formed League 605 at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. This left the Suburban League initially with four secondary schools – Bellflower, La Mirada, Mayfair and Norwalk. Later, Firebaugh High would join some sports.
He said the sporting directors of Bellflower and Mayfair had started contacting the sporting directors of SGVL before the pandemic shutdown in the spring of 2020 to discuss a possible merger.
“My manager went to the first managers meeting, and it was during Covid; we met at Warren High School,” Snyder said. “The directors were introduced to the idea of the conference and that’s when [Norwalk principal] dr. [David] Olea had told me that we were going to take another path.
Snyder said he and former Norwalk manager Mike Garcia, who preceded Olea, went to League 605 to discuss admission because he thought Norwalk had been invited to that league, which would make it a seven-member unit with Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney High. However, League 605 changed its mind and last year a vote was taken via zoom in the Foothill area, which is made up of seven CIF-SS leagues.
To avoid going straight into the SGVL, Snyder said Norwalk implemented a measure that would have landed the school in League 605. However, the league was, as Snyder said, “very effective to block the proposal, claiming that Norwalk would dominate League 605.
A vote was taken as was taken when League 605 was formed and was proposed by California High athletic director Armando Padilla. After Norwalk was denied admission to League 605, the vote to merge the two leagues passed almost unanimously. The two votes took place within minutes of each other.
“Everyone voted against us entering League 605, including our own schools and the San Gabriel Valley [League] schools,” Snyder said. “There’s still a lot of hard feelings about it.”
Once the 605 League was formed, the SGVL and the Suburban League began discussing a possible merger in the future. But in the case of Norwalk, according to Snyder, talks of merging the two leagues came before talks of possibly joining League 605. He added that he just wanted his kids to have a fair chance.
For Gahr, stepping out of SGVL somewhat for footballing purposes is a blessing to co-athletic director and head football coach Greg Marshall. Since arriving on campus more than two decades ago, it was wanted for him to leave SGVL and join the Suburban League, citing that his program could not increase the number of other SGVL teams. In fact, the football program went independent from 2002 to 2005. Marshall took over the program in 2003.
“I feel like we have a chance because it’s not a normal year for Gahr,” Marshall said. “We have ineligible players [and] we have children who move. We can compete in the SGVL against top teams like Downey and Warren… in normal years. We can compete in the SGVL if everything goes perfectly, like when we have the best passer in the state or stuff like that.
Since returning to SGVL from freelance status, the program has had five league-winning seasons, made the playoffs four times, and lost a tiebreaker on a draw the other season.
When the football season begins, the Upper League will consist of Dominguez High, Downey, La Mirada, Mayfair, Paramount High and Warren while the Lower League will field Bellflower, Firebaugh, Gahr, Lynwood High and Norwalk. Each year, teams could switch leagues or stay where they are. For women’s volleyball in the fall, the Upper League will have Downey, Gahr, Mayfair, Paramount and Warren, all of whom have been consistently dominant in their respective leagues. When the men’s basketball season begins, Gahr will be in the Lower League, but that might be short-lived considering the Gladiators have always been a dominant program with very few below-average seasons. Then, when the 2023 spring season arrives, Gahr baseball and La Mirada will be new league rivals and will play three times, March 28 at La Mirada, March 30 at Gahr, and April 28 at La Mirada. These two schools will also be in the upper league for boys’ cross country and softball and will be lower league rivals for women’s basketball, men’s soccer and wrestling.
“Gahr and La Mirada are probably the two best baseball schools in our old [leagues]”, Snyder said. “So they’re on the upper end [league] and I don’t see that ever changing.
Although Marshall likes the new conference, he said a problem was with the CIF-SS because when the SGVL was there you would get points or rewards for playing in the top division schools and the other five schools of SGVL are upper division schools. As a result, when the end of the year rolls around, Gahr is rated higher than he actually is.
For Gahr boys basketball, until recent seasons, it was in the upper CIF-SS divisions. For the first Suburban Valley Conference season, the Gladiators will be in the Lower League with Bellflower, Firebaugh, Lynwood, Norwalk and Warren.
“We are going to play four schools that are below [Division] 3, I think,” Marshall said. “So our division record for the playoffs is going to drop. This is the problem.
The Norwalk programs that would benefit from the merger, according to Snyder, are soccer, baseball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, and nearly every other sport. However, he admitted that one of the programs that may not immediately benefit from the merger will be men’s football, which has been one of the Suburban League’s elite programs for at least 25 years. Now, the Lancers will be grouped with the predominant powerhouses SGVL-Downey, Lynwood, Paramount and Warren, which have more than 2,000 enrollments. Since the 1998–99 season, the Lancers men’s soccer program has finished in the league’s top three 17 times, winning the league nine times. However, the program has beaten its new league rivals in the past, which should provide a competitive race for the top spot.
“A lot of people from Norwalk; coaches [and] directors, were against this merger,” Snyder said. “I have been for this merger from the very beginning because I have seen it as a way to advance certain programs that have been blocked in Mayfair and La Mirada, in particular football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, the softball and our women’s soccer team.
“So now these teams have the opportunity to qualify for the playoffs,” he continued. “And that will help teams gain momentum. People gon’ see they make the playoffs, and then we gon’ get more girls that wanna join [athletics]more boys who want to join [athletics].”
It’s slightly different in Gahr where most of the programs were intermediate programs, as Marshall says. The Gladiators have never been at their lowest in athleticism. They would finish anywhere from second to fourth or fifth with a few league champions here and there. That said, boys and girls basketball and boys and girls soccer would benefit from the merger, according to Marshall. That means the Gladiators would have a better chance of making the playoffs next season than if the merger had never happened.
“That’s the beauty of the conference; La Mirada wanted to go up because that’s what they are,” Marshall said. “Gahr baseball will never be…even when we have the worst year, we’ll probably be okay with being in the bottom group.
Snyder wanted to add that with the merger coming in August, Norwalk has had an unprecedented year when it comes to playoff appearances and he looks forward to seeing the same in the years to come.
“I’m kinda excited about it and I’m excited for the kids,” he said. “Norwalk has all these great facilities and we were able to accommodate a [softball playoff game]. It’s great to see the faces of the kids and we have a lot of kids, parents and teachers showing up for our home playoff games. I can’t wait to see it all.”