From left to right: Oakland School Boardmember Chris Dobbins, Michael Moore Sr., recently appointed OAL Commissioner and Oakland School Boardmember Noel Gallo listen to speakers at public hearing on the future of the Oakland Athletic League. Photo by Gene Hazzard.
By Ken Epstein
Speakers at a school district public hearing overwhelming opposed a proposal to dissolve the 89-year old Oakland Athletic League as an independent section in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).
If dissolved, the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) teams could become part of the larger North Coast Section, which contains 168 schools and is based in San Ramon.
The OAL, smallest of 10 sections in the CIF, is in charge of varsity-level competition at the city’s six public high schools, serving more than 2,000 students a year in 22 men’s and women’s sports, with an annual budget of about $800,000.
“As far as the OAL maintaining its autonomy, it’s an absolute must,” said Robert Perry, former Oakland Fremont High basketball coach, one of the community speakers at the hearing, held Aug. 21 at the school district headquarters.
“This is a league that has achieved greatness throughout the years,” he said. “The OAL might have some problems, but they can be fixed.”
Dominique Ferrell, a senior at Oakland High, was one of the varsity basketball players who spoke in favor of the OAL.
“When you take a bunch of inner city kids, you see a kind of passion, an ambition and a drive to do better, that you can’t explain,” he said. “You take away OAL, you take away the passion.”
And Dennis Flannery, women’s basketball coach at McClymonds High School, said:
“In North Coast, we’d have six representatives out of 168. Who would be the voice of the inner city student athletes of color?”
The future of the OAL became an issue in 2007 when former Oakland commissioner Jerry Luzar retired, leaving the league without a full-time commissioner for a year.
However, the school district’s new interim superintendent Roberta Mayor recently appointed Michael Moore Sr., a long-time district teacher and administrator, to served as the new commissioner.
Though Moore’s appointment has relieved the state federation’s immediate concerns, CIF Executive Director Marie Ishida said that the state would continue its plans to organize a task force to examine the Oakland and San Francisco sections, the two smallest in the state.
“Nothing is going to be shoved down anyone’s throat,” Ishida said. “We’re not going to rush – it will be a two- or three-year process. Everyone’s input will be considered.”
According to Board Member Noel Gallo, the special committee that organized the public hearing will present its recommendations to the full Board of Education on Sept. 24.
“If we continue as an Oakland section, we must continue as a quality section,” he said. “We want equity for our female and male athletes. We must recruit the best coaches possible – not just to coach on the field but to be academic mentors.”