Get ready Mother Lode League because here come the Sonora Wildcats.
Schools seeking to prevent Sonora High's football team from competing in the MLL were dealt what could be the final blow Tuesday, when a committee tasked with overseeing the Sac-Joaquin Section's four-year realignment plan again failed to act on an alternate proposal that would send the Wildcats elsewhere.
MLL officials unsuccessfully argued in favor of an alternate proposal that placed Sonora gridders in the Trans Valley League rather than the MLL at the final committee meeting before its 2014-18 Realignment Plan is considered by the CIF's Board of Managers for approval in April.
Under the plan, the MLL would be comprised of Sonora, Summerville, Amador, Linden, Bret Harte, Calaveras and Argonaut. The MLL would also be moved down to Division V due to shrinking enrollments.
A motion made by Calaveras athletic director Mike Koepp, who serves on the realignment committee, to accept the MLL's alternate proposal sending Sonora to the TVL lacked further support from any other members, effectively leaving the plan unchanged since the previous meeting in February.
"I'm just shocked," said Bret Harte athletic director Heath Lane, who worked closely with both Sonora and Sac-Joaquin Section officials to draft the compromise that would move the Wildcats to the TVL for football only, while allowing them to compete in the MLL in all other sports.
"I think that our league was adamant from the beginning that we didn't think Sonora was a good fit for us. It's not a safe situation for us to be in considering the size of their football program."
Lane said coaches and athletic directors at MLL schools are concerned that a powerhouse program like Sonora's, which fields freshman, junior varsity and varsity squads, would dominate the rest of the competition for years to come and put other players at a heightened risk for injury.
Lane cited the biggest concern is the Wildcat JV team that won the Valley Oak League title last season because it would be the first varsity squad to face the league's six other teams.
Lane contacted other schools in the TVL, which has a 25-22 combined overall record in the football playoffs over the last six years compared to the MLL's 8-22 record, but they resisted allowing Sonora gridders into the league as well.
"That's the disappointing part," Lane said. "We kind of reached an agreement with (Section Commissioner) Pete Saco and (Assistant Commissioner) John Williams, but then it just didn't happen."
Lane added there's even a possibility that other school's will simply choose not to compete against Sonora when they enter the MLL in 2014.
"Some schools have talked about not being able to play them, but we'll see what happens when we get there," he said. "We still have a couple years."
Meanwhile, Sonora, which has tried for years to join the MLL due to shrinking enrollment, refrained from taking a firm stance on either side of the issue at the meeting Tuesday but was willing to accept the MLL's compromise.
"We're not the bad guys here," said Sonora athletic director Rick Francis. "We agreed to what they wanted but for some reason the committee did not."
Francis said he and others were surprised when the MLL's alternate proposal didn't receive support besides from Koepp, but pointed out that Sonora actually has a smaller football enrollment than Calaveras and is projected to further shrink over the next few years.
"Sonora is not the Sonora of years past," Francis said. "We don't have 1,600 kids anymore, but it's the reputation."
Francis sounded concerned about talk that some MLL teams will refuse to play against the Wildcats on the football field.
"We're not saying we want to stay in the MLL for football, but don't take it out on our kids because the committee didn't see it your way," he said. "Our kids just want to play football."
The final draft of the 2014-18 Sac-Joaquin Section Realignment Plan will next be distributed to schools for a vote before it's considered by the Board of Managers at its April 24 meeting. A simple majority of schools in favor is required for approval.
Francis said he's served on the committee in two previous realignment cycles and has never seen a plan fail to pass once it reaches the Board of Managers.
Koepp said roughly seven or eight groups representing other leagues and schools outside of the MLL also expressed their opposition to non-related aspects of the plan at Tuesday's meeting, but didn't know if any planned on filing an appeal.
MLL officials can also file an appeal to the Board of Managers, but Lane said there haven't been discussions about taking any further action.
The committee put the MLL on its "watch list" that will be examined in 2016 to evaluate whether Sonora should be removed from the league.