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The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

CIF-Southern Section football teams to get their own leagues starting 2024-2025 season

Running+back+senior+Kaito+Inoue+attempts+tries+to+break+a+tackle+during+a+September+2023+game+against+Sonora+High+School+at+Buena+Park+High+School+stadium.+Because+of+the+CIF-Southern+Section+releaguing+that+will+start+in+the+2024-2025+season%2C+the+Lancers+will+no+longer+compete+against+the+Raiders+as+the+former+will+play+in+the+Lambda+division%2C+while+the+latter+will+play+in+the+Iota+division.
Asaph Li
Running back senior Kaito Inoue attempts tries to break a tackle during a September 2023 game against Sonora High School at Buena Park High School stadium. Because of the CIF-Southern Section releaguing that will start in the 2024-2025 season, the Lancers will no longer compete against the Raiders as the former will play in the Lambda division, while the latter will play in the Iota division.

Starting this fall, football will be the only sport that will have its own CIF Southern Section leagues, different from the rest of high school sports in Orange County.

Sunny Hills sports teams, for example, have been placed in one of three divisions in the Century Conference (Crestview, Freeway and North Hills) with the exception of football. For the Lancers in their 2024-2025 season, they will begin in the Lambda League, SH athletic director Paul Jones said.

Named after the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet, the new division moves Sunny Hills (4-6 in the 2023-2024 season) out of the Freeway League and pits the Lancers against five other high schools in Orange County: Beckman (9-3 last season) in Tustin, Fullerton (3-7 last season), Kennedy (7-5 last season) in La Palma, Marina (6-5 last season) in Huntington Beach and Valencia (3-7 last season) in Placentia, Jones said.

The current Freeway League will no longer exist as football athletes know it as other schools in the district have been scattered to new divisions. (Buena Park – 6-6 last season – moved to the Omicron League; La Habra – 7-5 last season – moved to the Epsilon League; Sonora – 9-3 last season – moved to the Iota League; Troy – 7-5 last season – moved to the Iota League.) 

“I feel kind of mixed about the new leagues,” Jones said. “From a competitive standpoint, we have a chance to win league, which is nice, but among some of the athletic directors in the district, we feel like it’s important to still schedule our district schools and have those rivalries to continue.”

The athletic director was referring to the traditional city championship; even though Fullerton will remain with Sunny Hills, Jones said he has made an agreement with Troy’s athletic director to keep the Warriors on the Lancers’ non-league schedule for the next two seasons.

Another advantage that he noted is that perennial powerhouse La Habra will no longer have to be an obstacle for the Lancers if they want to win a league title.

That’s a goal that new head football coach Frederick Gambrell will need to get his players to adopt as he takes over the program from social science teacher David Wilde, who resigned after the 2023-2024 season.

“The cool thing about this system is that it’s kind of like the playoff system, and it’s really equal [competitively speaking],” said Gambrell, who has also been hired as a special education instructor on campus this semester.

Before taking over the program in December, the new head coach said he had overseen football at Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, Kennedy in Richmond and for the past four years at San Clemente. 

“The biggest thing is to just take one game at a time; you don’t make any other opponent bigger than the other,” said Gambrell, who has also coached against Valencia while at Kennedy. “A lot of the time if you focus on only beating one school, like Troy, that’s all we worry about, but if you treat every game like that’s the one we need to win, that’s what you’ll end up focusing on.” 

The biggest thing is to just take one game at a time; you don’t make any other opponent bigger than the other.”

— head football coach Frederick Gambrell

Even with the new competition, the head coach said he sees benefits in this transition.

“I think it’s a good start for me to get here and kind of revamp everything, change things, make it new and fresh and have the team excited and playing good football,” Gambrell said. 

Sophomore Madden Leasau, who started at quarterback for a majority of the games last season, said he likes the change and doesn’t mind traveling as far south as Tustin to play a league opponent.

“I feel like the new league is good competition, and I’m looking forward to playing some new teams,” Leasau said. “I look forward to playing Troy because I want to show them we aren’t the same team as last year.”

Returning fullback junior Felipe Ko agrees.

“I feel like we’ll definitely have to work on new strategies and plays for the new competition [in the Lambda League], but I’m excited to play against other schools and players,” Ko said. 

WHY MAKE FOOTBALL SEPARATE?

The new system, which received final approval during a Tuesday, Jan. 20, vote among 77 school officials, organizes Orange County schools’ football squads into 12 leagues based on their records this past 2023-2024 season, Jones said. 

The Lambda League places eighth in rank among the 12 divisions. Jones said the leagues are no longer based on enrollment but rather the school’s win-loss statistics.

“I only see advantages in being ranked eighth because we didn’t compete at a very high level the last two years,” the athletic director said. “So being in the league we’re in gives us a really good opportunity to win league; our goal is to compete at a higher level, and if we’re in the eighth league, then we should be able to make playoffs.” 

To determine which league a football team falls into, CIF officials evaluated its rank based on its wins in the 2023-2024 season. The top league, dubbed the Alpha League, consists of four schools: Mission Viejo (13-3 last season), Los Alamitos (9-3 last season), Edison (6-5 last season) in Huntington Beach and San Clemente (9-2 last season), Jones said. 

Our goal is to compete at a higher level, and if we’re in the eighth league, then we should be able to make playoffs.”

— athletic director Paul Jones

The rest of the leagues consist of six schools each.

Jones said a separate league was created for football because of the sport’s immense popularity. 

“Most people believe that if a football program does well usually your other sports will do well, too, and people will want to come to your school because the football program is really good,” he said. “Although releaguing is really supposed to be for every sport, people usually pay attention to football, and they want it to be done differently because their football program does not compete well.”

CIF officials will re-evaluate schools’ placement in the 12 leagues every two years based on the win-loss record for each school, Jones said; the agreement to play Troy will last two years because that is the typical duration of a sports contract. 

“But in two years we [Troy and Sunny Hills] might be in the same league,” he said. “This year a lot of schools did redo the majority of contracts to align with the two-year cycle since in two years, you don’t know who’s going to be in what league.”

NEW LEAGUE BUT SAME STADIUM

Meanwhile, Jones said the Lancers, who don’t have a stadium on campus to play or practice in, will continue to host home games at Buena Park High School even though Buena Park is in a different league for the next two years.

“Honestly, we don’t have the space or the land for a stadium,” he said. “It would be really challenging because you would have to completely change the track field, baseball field and softball field, so now you’re impacting other sports programs as well.”

Instead, the athletic director said he hopes to achieve other facility goals like getting turf, installing an all-weather track and the construction of a second gym. 

“The stadium is a district stadium even though it’s on Buena Park’s campus,” Jones said. “I also have a really good relationship with the school’s athletic director, and before we made our football schedules, we had already worked out who’s going to be holding away games and when so we can have no issues.”

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Christine Yoo
Christine Yoo, Sports Editor
Stepping into her first year on The Accolade staff, junior Christine Yoo looks forward to diving deeper into her responsibilities as the co-sports editor. She hopes to sharpen her journalistic skills and broaden her knowledge of the niche aspects of sports writing. When not typing out stories, Yoo can be seen involving herself in different clubs and volunteer organizations. In her free time, she enjoys listening to true crime, finding new music and going out with her friends.
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