Hitting Every School In Our County

Images from quick tour of high schools in San Joaquin County include these from Ripon, Kimball of Tracy, Sierra of Manteca and St. Mary’s of Stockton. Photos: Mark Tennis.

San Joaquin County is part of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and is big enough to have two CIF state football title teams from last season. It’s also small enough so that we attempted to drive by, get some photos and check out what’s going on at every school in that county during a single day. We didn’t quite achieve that goal, but in three separate shifts in less than 24 hours we did. Go inside to see our route, which new head coach we happened to run into and which schools seem to be getting closer to more active workouts and practices with football players.

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The plan when the idea was hatched was to hit the road from our Stockton home/office and in one day do a drive-by with a stop and a few quick photos taken at every high school in San Joaquin County. The route had to be planned carefully (such as the best way to reach the more rural schools of Linden and Escalon), but after the first two stops at Lincoln of Stockton and Bear Creek of Stockton the thoughts about using a public bathroom during the Coronavirus pandemic began to emerge.

Yes, it would be possible to hit all of the schools in one, long day. But to be honest, I’ve been mostly shut down since March for travel and spending extra time looking for a bathroom perhaps 30 minutes from home just wasn’t working. Instead, I went to eight schools (including the two Lodi schools) on Thursday morning, took a break for lunch back home, and then headed out to six more schools in the afternoon (including Escalon and Ripon). The tour concluded on Friday morning for stops at 10 schools in the Manteca and Tracy areas.

Here’s what was observed at the schools we looked at (listed in order of the tour):

Lodi High image is seen through goalposts at practice field. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Lincoln (Stockton) — This would be our home school in a sense because it’s where my son, Sean Tennis, graduated from in 2014. Lincoln remains one of the biggest schools in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section with impressive facilities. The parking lot had probably 20 percent of normal cars in it and it was easy to notice that there were tackling dummies on the field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Bear Creek (Stockton) — I couldn’t get close to the field due to locked gates. All was quiet in Bruinland. Hope the school’s terrific journalism department is still going strong.

McNair (Stockton) — Like Bear Creek, McNair is part of the Lodi Unified School District with a Stockton address. It’s a modern, attractive campus, but the football stadium was sadder than just about any visited. The press box was boarded up and one of the two goal posts clearly needs to be adjusted or replaced.

Tokay (Lodi) — Voters seemed to have approved a bond measure in Lodi Unified. There was ongoing construction near the Tigers’ football stadium. A sign out front indicated that the stadium was undergoing a renovation.

Lodi — The Flames don’t have an on-campus stadium like Tokay and play their home games at the Lodi Grape Bowl. Still, the construction improvements are going on in front of the school with traffic diversions and one-way streets.

Chavez (Stockton) — After heading north from McNair up to the two Lodi schools, I came back down Highway 99 to Stockton and pulled off on Hammer Road to head over to Chavez. There were less cars at Chavez than the previous schools I checked out. Since this also is one of the Stockton Unified schools I’ve subbed at before (although not for a couple of years), the lack of students and activity was almost surreal.

St. Mary’s (Stockton) — All was quiet where the Rams usually are working hard at being the best football team in San Joaquin County. Last year was interesting because at the end it sure looked like Edison (Stockton) had the best team in the county. When is the last time that could even be debated?

Linden High’s Lion Stadium sits empty on a Thursday afternoon (left). At right is part of rebuilt entrance to Edison High of Stockton. Photos: Mark Tennis.

Stagg (Stockton) — There were only three cars in the back lot at Stagg (but there were more out front). This is the school I see the most by far since it is on the same street (Brookside Road) that I drive on whenever heading from the home/office to our P.O. Box or the bank.

Edison (Stockton) — After going to Stagg, I made a short trek back home for a lunch/bathroom break. The tour resumed 45 minutes later by getting onto I-5 at March Lane and going south to M.L. King Drive (near Edison). It’s amazing how much the Edison campus has been transformed in the last five to 10 years. I saw a few students in one parking lot, but no sports-related activities.

Franklin (Stockton) — Compared to the other SUSD schools, the athletic facilities and especially the football field at Franklin is hard to look at. There have been buildings re-vamped on campus, but the Franklin students definitely need and deserve an athletic upgrade. Dry, yellowing grass compared to field turf at the other schools just isn’t right.

Linden — They still have the “Cal-Hi Division IV School of the Year” sign right in front of the school. The sign that says “Home of Aaron Judge” is on the sign you see coming into town. It appeared as if the football field had been freshly mowed and there were some workers on site. Otherwise, it was quiet.

Escalon — There were big traffic delays at the junction of Highway 120 and Escalon-Bellota Road with a railroad crossing perhaps stuck in the down position. We worked around that mess and walked near the front of the school. There were more cars parked, but the Escalon School District offices are right next door to the high school. Also noticed that the sign coming into town, which at first was to celebrate our selection of the Cougars as D4 State Team of the Year for 1993 and 1996 already has the CIF D4A state title on it from last season.

Ripon — For the first time in the tour I saw kids working out with coaches. It appeared as if the players and coaches were doing a good job. They were in small groups, outside as opposed to inside and were moving in a station-to-station rotation. Not everyone was masked, but the coaches were and many of the players. I decided not to come up close and take pictures or get more information.

New Ripon Christian head coach Phil Grams probably was surprised who he spotted taking photos in front of his school on Thursday. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Ripon Christian — The RC campus is right next door to Ripon, but one needs to drive down a different street to get there. For a legit small school, the stadium is similar to Ripon’s and the dual performing arts-gymnasium building is something any school with 3,000 kids would be proud of. While there, we ran into new Ripon Christian head football coach Phil Grams. He remembered us from when he was head coach at Capital Christian (Sacramento). He said a lot of the players would be getting their packets in a matter days. From what we know of Ripon Christian and of Phil, that’s a good match of coach and school.

Weston Ranch (Stockton) — My day began on Friday hopping onto 1-5 south from Stockton toward Weston Ranch for the first stop. There were some workers at the school getting ready for some type of distribution. The last time we were there was for a basketball game at night.

Lathrop — This is the newest school in the Manteca Unified School District and I hadn’t seen it before. I couldn’t see much of the field since the school was locked up tighter than any other we visited. A lot of new homes are going up nearby so it will be interesting to see how the school becomes more integrated in those neighborhoods.

Mountain House — The decision was made to head out to Mountain House (just below the Altamont Pass) and then work my way back toward home through Tracy and Manteca. The school has one of the best entrance sightlines we’ve ever seen. Greek-style columns are plentiful. One could have great events at the stadium, but still there’s still not much close by in terms of places to eat. The ingredients are there for Mountain House to become a football powerhouse.

Kimball (Tracy) — This is the only school in the state in which I’ve met a namesake of a high school. Dr. John C. Kimball, who died in 2018 at age 94, was a sideline doctor in Tracy for 40 years among his many other community roles and he was doing that during the two years I was working as sports editor of the Tracy Press along with continuing to build Cal-Hi Sports. A lot more cars were parked than at many other schools.

Manteca High scoreboard on Friday night of Labor Day weekend will be dark. At right is the only sign at Millennium of Tracy that there is a high school at the site of the Tracy Learning Center. Photos: Mark Tennis.

West (Tracy) — It’s too bad that the Wolfpack haven’t had much success in recent years in football because Steve Lopez Stadium deserves better. It’s not Lincoln, but it’s one of the nicest stadiums in the county.

Millennium (Tracy) — I wasn’t sure I would check out Millennium, which plays at the smallest level of the section playoffs, but saw on the map that it was only a few blocks from Tracy High. I decided to park nearby and walk past both places. Millennium is actually part of the Tracy Learning Center. There’s no sign out front that says “Home of the Millennium Falcons” but upon thinking about it such a sign might entice a lot of strangers stopping by waving lightsabers or in wookie costumes and posing for photos.

Tracy — Wayne Schneider Stadium looked particularly empty to me on this Friday since it’s been one of the best places in California to watch a high school football game for going on 50 years. The place is holding up great from a recent refurbishing. There also were a few sleds in one corner of the field.

Sierra (Manteca) — Hitting the three primary Manteca schools would conclude my tour. Sierra was quiet like the others. Visiting here, though, always feels sad because I had spent a lot of time getting to know junior-to-be running back Daniel Teicheira at the Lions All-Star Football Game on a Saturday night in the summer of 2002. We were all looking forward to what he’d do in 2003, but just two nights later after that all-star game Daniel died in a single-car accident south of town. The stadium at Sierra is named for him.

Manteca — Gus Schmiedt Stadium is always a bit tricky to get into and it was again since one of the nearby streets was blocked off with construction. I did spot one open gate, parked my car and walked through. The gates to Gus also were open so for the first time in this tour it was possible to walk near the sidelines at a stadium on a Friday in the fall. Knowing all places like this are empty in California right now is of course quite sad. I’ll debate the politics about it some other time. I can be sad no matter who gets the blame.

East Union (Manteca) — The stadium at EU also was open and there’s some improvements being made at the front of the school. Just like Manteca, I walked through and snapped a few photos. As I was leaving, a worker was just driving up to lock the gates. I just said I was taking some photos of an empty stadium for Friday Night Lights, thanked the worker, got in my car and drove home northbound on Highway 99 toward Stockton.

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

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  1. Angela Juarez
    Posted September 26, 2020 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    You should have checked out Liberty High schools frosoph team of 2019. At lest 5 of the boys will have full rides to D1 College, if they keep up what they are doing. 2021 to 2023 Liberty Highschool in Bakersfield will be unstoppable, mark my word. They have the best kicker I’ve ever seen. And some big old very determined boys. And these big ol boy have the brains to match, they are all in AP classes with 4.0 and above. Look for #52, he’s going big places!!

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted September 27, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      We like to let frosh/soph players develop before checking any of them out. Hard enough to worry about 1,500 varsity teams in California. Let em stay kids for awhile longer.

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