Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Summerville High School staff and trustees made a rare appearance at a Sonora High board meeting Tuesday to ask that Sonora High stay out of a local high school sports league.

Switching Sonora High teams from the Valley Oak League to the Mother Lode League would pit Sonora directly against Summerville High and give Sonora an unfair advantage, said Summerville Superintendent John Keiter.

He noted Sonora High's larger enrollment, which he said makes some of its teams more competitive. The Wildcat's football team has emerged as the chief concern.

Currently part of the larger Valley Oak League, Sonora High plays in Oakdale, Stockton, Tracy and four schools in Manteca.

All those schools are at least a 40-minute bus trip away from Sonora High - some up to two hours - increasing travel costs for Sonora High teams.

To the displeasure of Keiter and some Summerville High School staff members, the proposal to put Sonora High in the smaller, more local Mother Lode League is being considered by the Sac-Joaquin Section, the governing body for sports leagues in the region.

"When you throw us both into the same league, you take away (Summerville) kids being able to win," Keiter said. "And you've got winners in this part of the community and losers in that part of the community, and I think it's atrocious."

The issue sparked heated discussion at public hearings held by the Sac-Joaquin section. Summerville High staff - including Bears basketball, softball and football coach Ben Watson - aired their concerns about the proposed league reorganization at a Summerville board meeting in January.

Summerville's enrollment could shrink if star athletes move to Sonora to play on the most competitive teams in the area, Watson said at the time.

Since then, Summerville's boys basketball team rocketed to success and is set to compete in a state playoff game in Tuolumne tonight.

Keiter has observed that a potentially bitter rivalry between Summerville and Sonora might require more security at games.

The Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees heard out the remarks Tuesday by Keiter and Summerville High trustees Randy Richter and Bret Taylor, but made no comments of their own.

Sonora High Superintendent Mike McCoy said the school is neutral on the question. Reorganization is up to the Sac-Joaquin Section, and Sonora High ultimately has no say, according to McCoy.

"We're very respectful of Summerville's position," he said. "We understand their concerns."

The Sac-Joaquin Section is set to discuss the plan again at a March 12 public hearing in Stockton.