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Tim Myers: The decline of football is all in the numbers

Myers’ Musings

Posted: November 28, 2009 8:42 p.m.
Updated: November 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Back in the late 1990s, a sports reporter contacted me to obtain a quote concerning an upcoming Hart-Valencia football game during the 10 years the Vikings tried (and failed) to obtain a victory during many regular season and playoff games.

While at that time I bore no affinity toward the Vikings (six years would pass before a member of the Myers clan matriculated at that august institution), I stated I would probably root for the Vikings due to the “David versus Goliath” nature of the game.

And in those days the Hart Indians certainly stood atop the Foothill League and the CIF, not losing a league game for 10-plus seasons until it lost two league games in 2004 to Valencia and Canyon, and in the last two seasons exited in the first round of the CIF post-season playoffs.

But Hart’s precipitous decline from football greatness only tells a portion of the story of the hapless Foothill League. Hart lost to Hueneme, the second-place team in the once also-ran Pacific League.   

Canyon, improbably winning the third slot in the Foothill League with a coin flip after racking up a whopping two wins during the regular season, received an appropriate spanking from Moorpark.

And before Hart fans think this will constitute some hagiography concerning the vaunted Valencia Vikings, number-one seed in the Northern Division with their perfect record, they barely survived a last-minute surge by Thousand Oaks, the fourth-place team in the Marmonte League, surrendering three more points (27) than they did against all Foothill League teams combined (24).

What happened to so thoroughly defeat Hart’s eminence and the strength of the Foothill League with multiple teams going deep into the playoffs? I humbly submit that, as always, one can find the answer in the numbers.

Dial back to 1996. During that year each of the four high schools in the Santa Clarita Valley had about 2,100 students enrolled with little variation from the mean.

Moving forward to 2003, in the span of just seven years the average enrollment at each of the four high schools peaked at a little more than 3,000.

Hart High School enjoyed its peak enrollment in 2003 at 2,974, and arguably stood at the peak of its Foothill League and CIF prowess, winning the CIF that year against vaunted Mission Viejo. Also during that magical fall, three PAC 10 starting quarterbacks graduated from Hart High.

What happened to Hart High? The opening of Golden Valley and West Ranch high schools and the slowing of the growth in overall enrollment in the William S. Hart Union High School District.

From that peak in 2003, the average of per-high school enrollment fell to less than 2,500 in 2008, with Hart declining all the way down to 2,180, a mere shadow of its former self. Also, the Hart district, which could once count on annual increases of total enrollment in the 500-1,000 student range, barely squeezed out an additional 50 students systemwide between 2007 and 2008.

People familiar with public high school football know coaches run their talent pool like an orchard manager:  One shakes the trees and sees how much good fruit falls out. A mathematical imperative exists that the more trees in the orchard, the more likely one will find some good fruit.

Thinking of this, one would like to say Valencia succeeded where Hart failed due to superior coaching and better players, but the
numbers indicate otherwise.

From 1996 Valencia enjoyed a higher than average enrollment when compared to other schools in the Hart district. In 2004, that magical year when they finally got their first football win over the Indians, Valencia, unaffected by the opening of Golden Valley, enrolled over 900 more students than the average high school, and 283 more than Hart High School.

And in 2008, one year before the Vikings would hand the Indians a 55-7 shellacking? Valencia High School enrolled nearly 800 more students than Hart High School.

What does the future hold? At current trends, the opening of a Castaic High School in four to five years will reduce average high school enrollment to less than 2,200, a point we now know renders the programs ineffective in the Northern Division of the CIF.

The good news is the league should become more competitive with everyone scrambling for diluted talent. The bad news is that we won’t watch much football in late November.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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