With his career as a coach, athletic director and section commissioner nearing 35 years, it wasn’t a surprise that the announcement made on Thursday at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section office in Lodi about commissioner Pete Saco’s “future plans” was that he would be retiring.
Saco said on Thursday during a news conference that his final days would be in August. He is just the third commissioner that the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has had since it was formed in 1942. He followed the Clarke Coover in 1993. Clarke was the commissioner from 1968 to 1993 and he followed the first one, James Cave, who served from 1942 to 1968.
“I have been truly blessed to work for one of the finest athletic organizations in the country,” Saco said. “Our Board of Managers has been very supportive of the initiatives that I felt were important for the students within the Sac-Joaquin Section and the entire state. I have been very fortunate to have a great staff that was willing to carry out the vision that was adopted and supported by our Board of Managers and Executive Committee for high school athletics within our section.”
Saco’s influence statewide is going to be best known for his proposals regarding the CIF state football bowl games as well as the addition of the Open Division in both football and basketball. It’s not a stretch at all to say that were it not for Saco’s leadership on the issue that there never would have been CIF state football bowl games. Say what you will about the lack of state playoffs in football, but the bowl games have been the best thing to happen to the CIF statewide since the boys and girls basketball playoffs began in 1980.
“The direction Pete Saco has offered the Sac-Joaquin Section is unparalleled,” Section President and Lincoln-Stockton Principal Debbi Holmerud said. “He has been a voice for equity for all students and schools and been willing to make difficult decisions when that equity has been challenged. He has led by example, held high expectations of himself and those around him and made things happen. He will be missed.”
The last act for Saco as commissioner will be to oversee induction of the section’s third Hall of Fame class in August. We will always be humbled that Cal-Hi Sports was part of the section’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2010.
Although Saco has been the CIFSJS commissioner since 1993, he was never the longest-serving section commissioner in the state. That distinction has belonged to Nancy Lazenby-Blaser, who has been the CIF Central Coast Section commissioner since 1989. Within the last two years, other retiring section commissioners have been Jerry Schneipp in San Diego (replacing Dennis Ackerman), Rob Wigod for the Southern Section (replacing Jim Staunton) and John Aguirre for the L.A. City Section (replacing Barbara Fiege). Russell White also has been the CIF Oakland Section commissioner just since October of 2012.
Saco’s longtime assistant commissioner, John Williams, will be regarded as a somewhat obvious candidate to replace him. But there have been a few instances in which strong candidates have emerged from outside a section office.