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Sac-Joaquin Section realignment plan would make TVL a monster conference
CCAL left unchanged by SJS committee
Hilmar football
Hilmar linebacker Logan Cardoso (5) closes in on Sonora’s Jack Teem during an early September non-conference game at Dunlavy Field in Sonora. An initial plan by the Sac-Joaquin Section realignment committee would move Sonora into the Trans-Valley League with Hilmar. If approved, the TVL would become even more competitive than it already is and Sonora could replace Escalon as Hilmar’s rival — or make it a three-way rivalry (Photo by AnnaMarie Silveira).

Think the Trans-Valley League is one of the best small-school football leagues in all of California?

Then just wait until 2024.

The Sac-Joaquin Section put forth a plan Tuesday at its first realignment meeting of 2023 — four more meetings are slated over the next 10 weeks — and if the plan survives with no amendments, Orestimba, Ripon Christian and Sonora will be added to the league, with Livingston, Modesto Christian and Riverbank moving elsewhere.

Of course, the section’s plan is centered around all sports — not just football — and it focuses on competitive equity, student populations, how many sports are offered at each school, the desires of the schools themselves and travel burdens. 

“We’re looking at 200 schools and not just one school,” said SJS commissioner Mike Garrison. “We really focus on the criteria, and they’re interwoven, we get that. But we really try to look at those.”

Trans-Valley League





Ripon Christian (from SL)

Orestimba (from SL)

Sonora (from MLL)

Out: Livingston (to WAC), Modesto Christian (to CCAA, no basketball), Riverbank (to MLL)


Southern League




Le Grand


Stone Ridge Christian (from CCAA)

Out: Orestimba (to TVL), Ripon Christian (to TVL)


Central California Athletic Association

Turlock Christian

Big Valley Christian


Venture Academy

Modesto Christian (from TVL, no basketball)

Holt Academy (from MVL)

Hughes Academy (from MVL)

River Islands (from VOL)

Out: Stone Ridge Christian (to SL), Elliot Christian (to MVL)


Central California Athletic League







Out: No changes proposed

While a school’s football program may be a fit for one league, its other athletic programs might have trouble competing in that same league.

“I know that Sonora has to go somewhere and the TVL seems like the logical landing spot,” said Hilmar athletic director Paul Willis. “But I know Orestimba and Ripon Christian don’t want to be in the TVL. Today was just the first meeting. Now comes the part where you go home, sit down and think about what’s next. That’s why I think the TVL, as it was proposed today, will look different when this all comes out in the wash.”

As far as football is concerned, the TVL would become a monster conference.

“In the long run, this is going to make you better when you’re playing higher competition on a regular basis,” said Sonora athletic director Josh Kroeze. “The Mother Lode League is not a good fit for us. It’s not where we need to be.”

Hilmar, Hughson, Escalon, Ripon — teams that have won at least one state football title since 2018 — would be joined by a Sonora team that has faced either Escalon or Hilmar in the playoffs each of the last three seasons (Hilmar and Sonora already play an annual preseason game). Orestimba, meanwhile, lost two close games this season — its only losses — to eventual state champ Hughson, while Ripon Christian lost 31-28 to Hughson in a tightly contested NorCal regional bowl game.

In other words, the new additions appear to be fit for the TVL.

But Ripon Christian athletic director Kevin Tameling has reservations. While his team gave the eventual state champs all they could handle, his team was seriously banged up. 

“My concern is for the health of safety of our athletes,” said Tameling. “When we played Hughson we were on our last legs.”

If that had been a league matchup instead of the final game of the season, could RC have been able to take on rugged Escalon the following week? Then Ripon? What about Hilmar a week after that?

Orestimba has similar concerns.

“I’m concerned that you are placing our student-athletes in a place where you say, immediately, we’re going to struggle, but is the right place for us,” OHS athletic director John Labno told the committee during the public-comment portion of the meeting. “Where, with other schools, you’re moving them because they are struggling.

Trans-Valley League volleyball, too, would become something of a super conference. Sonora met and defeated Orestimba in the Division IV playoffs this season, though the Wildcats eventually fell to Ripon in the championship match. Meanwhile, Ripon Christian took home the blue banner in Division V.

But would other newcomer programs— basketball, soccer, wrestling, baseball and softball — be as ready to compete in the TVL?

“I believe you’re setting us up to fail,” Labno told the committee.

The Southern League and Central California Athletic Alliance, home to Denair and Turlock Christian, respectively, face only minor changes.

The Southern League would lose Orestimba and RC but gain Stone Ridge Christian, while the CCAA would lose Stone Ridge and Elliot Christian, while adding Holt Academy and Hughes Academy from the Mountain Valley League, Modesto Christian (without its basketball team) from the TVL and River Islands, the just-opened high school in Lathrop.

The Central California Athletic League was the only conference not affected by the section’s quadrennial realignment plan. Turlock and Pitman would continue to be aligned with Downey, Gregori, Enochs and Modesto.

The next realignment meeting is slated for Feb. 7 at 9 a.m.