Marc Groff, the principal at Ventura St. Bonaventure, will soon learn what it's like trying to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
He's facing a challenge that will require him to stay calm, take lots of deep breaths and perhaps pray for divine intervention when things get tough.
His assignment on March 20 is to persuade members of the Southern Section Executive Committee to reverse a decision that would force St. Bonaventure's sports teams to start traveling hours away from their campus for athletic contests.
It's the final appeal for St. Bonaventure of new area placements for the 2014 sports season. St. Bonaventure has been in the Northern Area, allowing its football team to compete in the Marmonte League and its other teams to compete in the Tri-Valley Athletic Assn. Now the Southern Section wants to move the school into the Parochial Area, in which the nearest league is the San Fernando Valley-based Mission League, creating a travel nightmare.
There could be one-way weekday trips of 75 miles to La Canada St. Francis, 67 miles to Los Angeles Loyola, 58 miles to Mission Hills Alemany, 51 miles to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and 46 miles to Encino Crespi. And the Seraphs' athletic teams other than football aren't exactly ready to compete in the Mission League.
"The two criteria we're going after is geography and competitive equity," Groff said. "Geography doesn't hold as much weight, but what I'm going to try to appeal to is the academic sense of being out of class."
St. Bonaventure doesn't have sixth-period sports classes. Lots of students are taking advanced placement classes in the afternoon. If they're on a tennis team or track team traveling to Los Angeles on a Thursday afternoon, they'll need to leave at lunch time. And just imagine what time they might get home traveling on the 101 Freeway back to Ventura.
"It's not optimal to be doing calculus homework on a bus at 9 o'clock at night," Groff said.
And yet, most observers believe there's little chance Groff will be able to persuade a committee in which 17 of the 19 members are associated with public schools to overturn the Southern Section hierarchy.
"My hope is these are professionals, and they're going to go in with an open mind," Groff said.
Of course, other schools travel long distances for games within leagues. In the High Desert League, Lancaster Desert has to travel 195 miles one way to play Bishop. In the Los Padres League, Santa Ynez must travel 82 miles one way to Morro Bay.
St. Bonaventure's problems can be traced to its powerful football program, which has become so good it can compete against the best in the prestigious Pac-5 Division. But the rest of the Seraphs' sports teams would not be considered Division I on a consistent basis. Southern Section rules won't allow schools to play football in one area and have the rest of their teams compete in another area.
Groff has prepared a PowerPoint presentation with dozens of pages of documents and statistics trying to show why his 537-student campus that is funded by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles needs to stay in the Northern Area.
St. Bonaventure isn't the only school making an appeal. Westlake Village Oaks Christian, La Verne Damien and Glendora St. Lucy's also don't want to be put into the Parochial Area.
But none of those schools are facing the potential challenges St. Bonaventure students would face.
If St. Bonaventure loses its appeal, there will be two other options. The Archdiocese could go to court and sue. More likely, St. Bonaventure would decide to go freelance and try to schedule opponents during bye weeks and hope to make the playoffs based on their record. It would be a scheduling nightmare, but sending students on a weekly version of "The Amazing Race" doesn't seem plausible, either.
Also, be careful about the precedent that could be established. If St. Bonaventure can be forced to play in a league whose members are far away, then why can't a public school that has become too good for a league also be sent packing?