CIF Sections: Biggest Challenges 2017

The CIF and its sections are saying hello this year to competitive cheer. This cheer squad from Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) has been successful in numerous national competitions. Photo:

We asked all 10 of California Interscholastic Federation’s section commissioners to talk about what they felt were their biggest challenges heading into the 2017-18 school year and what they were looking forward to the most. Transfers were not highest on the list. Instead, it was more about helping athletic directors and coaches (especially new ones) know how the section offices can help them do their jobs. They also are all very much working hard to welcome competitive cheerleading as a CIF sport for the first time.

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Note: We know it’s a busy time, but the only two of the 10 section commissioners who did not respond to our questions (sent via email) for this feature were Duane Morgan of the CIF Central Coast Section and Alonzo Powell of the CIF Oakland Section. We can always include their comments in a blog post later on.

1. What is the biggest challenge your section faces for the upcoming school year?

“High schools in the CIF Northern Section have impressive stories to tell and we need everyone involved in educational-based athletics (media, parents, teachers, coaches, administrators, and student/athletes) to help share and tell those positive stories. Athletics teaches we can live in different communities, come from different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures, and cheer for different teams and still have a common bond…..telling the positive stories and reminding all involved of the common bond we share, when facing difficult situations, is a big challenge.”
Liz Kyle, CIF Northern Section

Rob Wigod is the commissioner of the CIF Southern Section, which contains approximately four times more schools than the second largest section in the state. Photo:

“I think one of our biggest challenges this school year will be the beginning of Cheer as a CIF sport. This will be a new venture for our section and for those involved in Cheer who are now joining the CIF for the first time. As with any new sport, there will be a learning curve for all involved, but we welcome Cheer to our family as another example of what we do, which is offering opportunities for young people to learn valuable life lessons by participating in high school athletic programs.”
Rob Wigod, CIF Southern Section

“Safety…Across the country, we are having to defend football as a sport. There’s no question, there is risk in sports and it’s higher in football. But I also believe two things: 1, that there is no more sport with more benefits for young people: the camraderie, organization skills, teamwork, mental toughness, humility, leaderships skills etc. that football teaches to young people cannot be replicated. There are many lessons that the sport offers and I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. 2, There have been many rule changes and safety measures instituted that have made the game much safer than it is has ever been–but our challenge and responsibility is to continue to make it safer in every way possible. As we continue efforts to make the game safer, I believe the perception and fear of the game will change and participation will begin to increase.”
Jerry Schniepp, CIF San Diego Section

“Other than eligibility, for us one of the biggest (challenges) is providing education of how things work to our athletic directors. We have a lot new ones in our section this year. I really believe it is a big piece continuously of our job to make their jobs easier. We want them to know we’re service oriented, providing resources to the ADs so they know what they’re doing and what we’re doing.”
Mike Garrison, CIF Sac-Joaquin Section

“The greatest challenges to the (L.A. City) Section include the number of new coaches and athletic directors that do not have the experience to maintain a smooth running operation. We hope through our training efforts we can provide enough support and resources for our athletic directors and coaches to work with each other and the section to get to a point where they can offer their students qualify education based athletic programs in a safe environment. Other challenges include a growing number of principals who are not involved and have little knowledge of athletic rules and regulations plus the continued effort to improve the behavior and sportsmanship displayed by our coaches and players. During the past three years, we have experienced a 29 percent reduction in ejections.”
John Aguirre, CIF L.A. City Section

“Probably having to look at transfers more closely now that the athletic motivation piece has been removed for the most part….ie., true full family move (checking residences) —-multiple players transferring to the same school in the same sport….playing for’travel teams’ where numerous HS players from school A are playing and then a student from the ‘travel team’ team transferring to school A.”
Jim Critchlow, CIF Central Section

“Each section faces many challenges and I will assume that the biggest challenge is the one you happen to be working on at any given moment. But the CIF-NCS is always vigilant concerning student safety and fairness in competition. Therefore, communicating to schools about safety protocols, best practices, etc., to keep our students safe from injuries and heat illness is probably a number one concern. Management/communication of member schools concerning starting dates, out-of-season practices, etc. also is very important.”
Gil Lemmon, CIF North Coast Section

“Our schools have made tremendous inroads on cutting edge health initiatives. We are entering our 10th year of working with UCSF’s Sports Medicine Department and the National Football Foundation on a program that provides free EKGs as part of a high school sports physical. We are expanding our baseline/concussion testing program, and even though San Francisco has a cool climate, we have heat regulations.”
Don Collins, CIF San Francisco Section

2. What are you looking forward to the most (can be an event) for the upcoming school year?

“All high school people, including me, look forward to championships. There is no better time to showcase our most talented teams and students. So I look forward to the competition leading up to our finals and great championship events themselves, including our first ever traditional cheer championships which will be held on February 3rd.” Jerry Schiepp, CIF San Diego Section

Gil Lemmon, CIF North Coast Section commissioner, is beginning his 40th year in education and his 42nd in high school athletics. Photo:

“Watching (Will DeBoard) run cheerleading. Honestly, to see the implementation of a new sport is definitely something to look forward to. Also, it’s having enrollment-based divisions in baseball for the first time.”
Mike Garrison, CIF Sac-Joaquin Section

“I am really looking forward to Year 2 of our competitive equity playoff system. I believe that we got off to a great start last year with closer games, especially in early rounds, and seeing schools who had never achieved success in our playoffs in the past having legitimate chances to compete for section championships for the very first time.”
Rob Wigod, CIF Southern Section

“Attending high school events are uplifting, enriching, family friendly experiences for all of us. The Northern Section is also looking forward to our second year of inclusive events at our section track championships. For all the athletes and spectators who attended our track championships it was a rewarding experience…. many of us were reminded how fortunate we are as we celebrated inclusive athletes’ participation.”
Liz Kyle, CIF Northern Section

“We are preparing to add 13 schools from the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo County, etc.) into the Central Section. We are looking forward to that.”
Jim Critchlow, CIF Central Section

“The San Francisco Section helps a number of students with scholarship applications. We particularly enjoy reading students’ essays on citizenship, character and the values they derive from participating in athletics. Playing a supporting role as students pursue various scholarships gives us a first hand look at how sports help some of our students maximize their potential, and at how some of our students articulate the life lessons they learn as they participate in high school sports.”
Don Collins, CIF San Francisco Section

“This is my 40th year involved with education and 42nd involved with high school athletics and I love educational athletics. It is an honor to work for CIF-NCS and I enjoy the daily work with our member schools to maintain the best athletic programs/competition possible. I look forward to attending the many section championships this year, starting with the fall sports. One event in particular is the NCS Cross Country Championships, where I emcee the awards. Always a great day!!”
Gil Lemmon, CIF North Coast Section

“Overall, I see another great year ahead, which will provide many opportunities for our schools and student-athletes to participate in athletic programs and learn to compete in a positive environment and challenge themselves to improve their skills in the sport, their focus to compete and work to be the best they can, and the experience that will support their efforts to succeed in their academic environment and post high school endeavors.”
John Aguirre, CIF L.A. City Section

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

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  1. Bob Elliott
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Good to read that SLO Co, will be joining the Central Section……

  2. Mfh
    Posted October 14, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes, yes: high school is a great time for community bonding, etc. But more to the point, how is it that coaches are not concerned that SS is SO much larger than other sections? It makes it so much harder for their athletes to compete at Section and State competitions compared to frequently wholly undeserving and demonstrably poorer athletes from smaller sections. Children today are competing fiercely for college places and scholarship money–giving completely undeserving kids places at State is putting much better athletes at a disadvantage for recognition and college money they they deserve and NEED. Response?

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted October 14, 2017 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Don’t think it impacts athletes getting college opportunities one bit that the CIFSS is so big. Great competition is the key. It will always help player development and anyone that recruits California knows where to find great competition.

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