RELATED: Interview with CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod
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It’s been quite an overhaul among the roster of the 10 CIF section commissioners over the last two years.
Heading into the 2019-20 school year, Pat Cruickshank had taken over for retiring longtime leader Gil Lemmon in the CIF North Coast Section, Vicky Lagos had replaced retiring John Aguirre in the CIF L.A. City Section and in the CIF Oakland Section it was Francisco Navarro coming in for Sonjha Phillips, who left to become an assistant commissioner under Cruickshank in the NCS. People enjoying the just released Netflix series Last Chance U featuring Laney College football coach John Beam probably would like to know that Phillips is Coach Beam’s daughter.
It didn’t take long to learn during the just completed 2020-21 school year that three more CIF section commissioners would be retiring. In the CIF Central Section, a 19-year run by Jim Crichlow in the post would end. In the CIF San Diego Section, Jerry Schneipp had been in the job for 10 years while in the CIF Central Coast Section it was five years for Duane Morgan.
The three new CIF section leaders this year are Ryan Tos in the Central Section, Joe Heinz in San Diego and David Grissom in the CCS.
The CIF section revamp also came during a leadership change at the top of the CIF state office when Ron Nocetti moved up to become executive director to start the 2019-20 school year. He had replaced previous executive director Roger Blake.
If you’re wondering why it seems like all of these section commissioners retire so frequently, it’s likely because they are all in education-based pension plans (similar to teachers) so when they reach a certain age they can just about earn the same amount of income in retirement as they do if they continue to work.
Many of them still continue to serve on various CIF committees or run CIF events. Retired CIF Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco, for example, is still director of the CIF state basketball championships. Saco was replaced in the SJS in 2014 by current commissioner Mike Garrison.
The longest serving CIF section commissioner entering the current school year is Don Collins of the CIF San Francisco Section. The Yale Law School grad began in 2001 and was the second Black section commissioner in the state after Lou Jones of the Oakland Section (1981-1993). Outside of Oakland, he’s still the only one. The other two with double-digit years of service are Liz Kyle of the CIF Northern Section (since 2006) and Rob Wigod of the CIF Southern Section (leading the state’s largest section by far since 2010).
We reached out to the three new section commissioners to see how they were dealing with the challenges of their new jobs and how it’s been having to take over during a pandemic.
We’ve gotten to know Ryan for the last five years since he’s been the assistant commissioner in the Sac-Joaquin Section and since we’re based in Stockton we tend to go to a lot more SJS events than any of the other sections.
Tos played basketball and tennis at Immanuel High in Reedley in the early 1990s. He also played golf and tennis at the same time during his junior year.
“I had a great experience with high school athletics – I had great coaches and teammates,” he recalled. “My basketball coach, John Thiesen, has been a mentor and friend for over 25 years now. Even though I do not see my high school friends and teammates too often, it is great to see them and reconnect when we are able to. From a competitive standpoint, we were successful and won championships but I don’t remember every game we played. I just recall having fun – it was not perfect but it was a great time in my life.”
After he went to college, Tos started coaching at Dinuba High in 1998, then from 2000 to 2013 he was at Central Valley Christian of Visalia. It was at CVC where he went from coaching more toward administration and at CVC he became athletic director. He was the AD at Lemoore (a bigger public school) from 2013 to 2015 before gaining the Sac-Joaquin Section position.
“Transitioning has been interesting – starting a new position has its challenges during ‘normal’ times but the pandemic has created more anxiety and many more questions,” Tos said. “Of course, we do not have answers to many of those questions and that does make things a bit more difficult. The current and former staff members, member schools, and athletic directors (in the Central Section) have all been very supportive and I am grateful for that.”
Tos said in another interview with the Visalia Times-Delta that coming back to the section “definitely feels like home.” He said in another interview after the 2020-21 calendar was announced (and fall sports being pushed back to January) that he thought the rise in all of those new infections and hospitalizations due to the pandemic in early July effectively sealed that decision.
“High school sports starting in the next few weeks would be such a welcome outlet so it is going to be really tough to not have that outlet and see the joy on the faces of the students participating,” he said. “It is just hard to imagine a fall without high school sports and something that is painful for all involved but we are hopeful that with the postponement we can still have seasons starting in December and beyond.”
We’re never sure if some folks from far outside of our Northern California roots may be that aware of all that we do at Cal-Hi Sports. It turns out that Joe found out about us in 1987 when he was a senior offensive lineman in football at Chula Vista High. He was selected as one of those on honorable mention (we now call those choices third team) for the 1987 all-state football team.
Heinz later played in the offensive line at San Diego State and has been a coach and administrator for 27 years in the Sweetwater Union High School District. His latest post in that district was coordinator of athletics. Joe’s alma-mater is in that district along with Bonita Vista, Castle Park, Eastlake, Hilltop, Mar Vista of Imperial Beach, Montgomery of San Diego, Olympian, Otay Ranch, San Ysidro, Southwest and the namesake, Sweetwater of National City. In other words, that’s a lot of schools.
“What I remember most, even more than playing in college, was the games and competition with your neighborhood friends and rivals (in high school),” Heinz recalled. “The excitement and long lasting memories of those games, as well as the mentorship of the coaches I played for, have had a lifelong impact on me both personally and professionally.”
Even before Heinz officially took over for Schneipp, he had to help in the selection of a new assistant commissioner for the section since John Labeta also was retiring. The new assistant commissioner, who also started in July, is Todd Cassen (previously with the Poway Unified School District).
“It’s definitely been interesting settling into this position in the most unprecedented times in interscholastic athletics,” Heinz said. “With some new tangible dates in place for modified sports seasons for the state, it has given me a great opportunity to meet many of the athletic directors, coaches, and administrators from throughout our section as we’re developing a revised Master Calendar for 2020 and 2021.”
Unlike most of other CIF sections, San Diego hasn’t yet officially announced its new calendar. It probably won’t be too much different, however, than the rest of the state.
“The collaboration and feedback we’ve had with these groups has been great and we feel confident it presents a great opportunity for our student athletes, coaches, schools, and communities to return to play,” Heinz said.
Since he was moving over to the CCS after serving as principal at Mountain View High, we just had to tell David about a bizarre trivial fact regarding his former school.
That was for the 1926 football season when Mountain View played eight games and didn’t score in any of those games. The more amazing fact, though, is that the team only lost three times in eight games despite not scoring a point. That’s because there were five 0-0 ties. Thus, Mountain View for 1926 is still in the state football record book as one of five schools to own the record for most ties in a season.
Grissom’s previous experience as being president of the CCS plus vice president and representing the section on the CIF Federated Council also made him a strong candidate to replace Morgan.
Unlike Tos and Heinz, Grissom didn’t grow up in the CIF section he’s going to lead. He’s from San Diego where his father, Lee, was the president of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce for many years.
“San Diego is deep in my heart,” Grissom said in a phone interview. “I played football and baseball at University of San Diego, which is now more well-known as Cathedral Catholic. I loved all athletics there and still love the San Diego teams. I also had some great coaches there.”
Having all of that experience serving in previous roles within the CCS has made the transition for Grissom easier, but then there’s this pandemic that has been so disruptive.
“On the periphery, I had a good sense of what I was walking into,” he said. “But the first thing we had to do was completely change the yearly schedules, something that had not been done in forever. I really hope we can pull it all off.”
One of Grissom’s biggest concerns is whether athletes at smaller schools who’ve traditionally been the ones who more often play more than one sport will be able to do that next spring.
“We also have six different counties that will have six different county health departments to work with as we get re-started,” he said while naming them off (San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey). “That’s going to be a real challenge for us.”
Good luck and congrats to all three of the new CIF section commissioners.
Mark Tennis is the editor and publisher of Cal-Hi Sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports