ALHAMBRA — The news wasn’t what the struggling Damien High School football program wanted to hear.
But the Spartans got it loud and clear on Tuesday morning when members of the Catholic Athletic Association approved a football-only re-leaguing proposal that will send Damien to a new yet-to-be-named league against several Southland heavyweights. The meeting was held at Ramona Convent.
Damien’s new league mates will be Bishop Amat, Serra, Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and Loyola. The league will compete in the PAC-5 Division, which is the toughest division in the Southland.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Damien principal Dr. Merritt Hemenway said. “We have a lot of good people. We have a lot of good young men in our school.”
Several schools put forth proposals, but only two got the majority vote they needed from the 26 schools represented to make it to a final vote.
For Damien, both of the final proposals had the Spartans heading to the PAC-5. The proposal that passed, which was authored by Serra High School, keeps Damien somewhat local by having Bishop Amat also in the league.
“We voted for it,” Hemenway said. “It was the lesser of two evils.”
Damien is currently in the Sierra League where it has not won a championship since 2006. The Spartans missed the playoffs last season after winning just one league game. Following the season, former head coach Greg Gano resigned and was later replaced by former Amat head coach Mark Paredes.
The new league also represents a change for Amat, which will still keep company with Loyola and Notre Dame, but now has Damien and Serra to contend with rather than Crespi and Alemany.
“From our perspective, we were trying to help other schools that were being forced into the PAC-5 when they didn’t want to be,” Amat football coach Steve Hagerty said. “We’re exactly where we thought we’d be, against good competition and in the PAC-5.”
Amat and Damien had played annually until the series ended last season after Gano opted to not play the Lancers any longer. That will change now as they’ll be forced to play every season with plenty more on the line than just area bragging rights.
“We get a local game with Damien and Mark Paredes will get them there if it’s decided by everybody that they’re not there already,” Hagerty said. “It will be exciting football. The difference will be that we’ll have one close rivalry in Damien.
“It will be more intriguing playing against Mark Paredes, my mentor. That will be fun.”
Both Amat and Damien put forth separate proposals but neither got enough support to make it to the final vote.
Other local teams will also see the complexion of their leagues change. St. Paul and St. Francis will remain in the Mission League, but the league will bid adieu to Serra and Chaminade and become a four-team proposition with Harvard-Westlake and Cathedral also remaining.
That means both St. Paul and St. Francis will have to schedule a whopping seven nonleague games to fill a 10-game schedule.
“We’re very competitive right now with those teams,” St. Paul athletic director Casey Morales said. “Year in and year out, playing that group of four is pretty much a toss up. I think it was very positive to keep the competitive equity.
“It’s going to be a scheduling nightmare. There are only so many odd-team leagues out there. That’s going to be interesting and we’ve already talked about a couple of creative options in the future.”
After some proposals had La Salle get a hefty boost in competition, the Lancers are staying put in the Del Rey League and will be joined by Cantwell Sacred Heart, Bishop Montgomery, Salesian, St. Bernard and Verbum Dei.
Bosco Tech’s league will include Bell Jeff, Mary Star, St. Anthony, St. Genevieve and St. Monica.
THE NEW LEAGUES …
Mission League (I presume)