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No End in Sight for De La Salle Dominance

Love them, hate them, respect them. De La Salle football will continue to excel.

Short of beating a college team, there’s nothing the football team can accomplish that would constitute "surprising."

That includes Saturday’s 35-0 shellacking of Westlake, the supposed best team in Southern California, in the California State Open Division Bowl game. Performances like that have long been the expectation for the Spartans.

Moving forward, nothing figures to change. As long as Bob Ladouceur is coaching De La Salle, the Spartans will play for Open Division championships and be considered for mythical national titles. East Bay Athletic League and North Coast Section titles are essentially etched into stone before each season begins.

As long as the Spartans keep winning – which they will – debates regarding De La Salle and its place locally will rage on. 

After the team’s in the NCS finals, several Patch readers expressed their opinions.

Here are some of the more memorable lines:

"It is ridiculous that DLS is even in the league. They recruit from all over, taking what they think is the best players."

"Maybe Private schools should compete against each other since they can take from any area."

"We can only hope that one day DLS will leave this league. It is so unfair and demoralizing to players from the public schools."

"DLS is the winner in Northern California, again, because they worked hard and are flat better, again."

"Unless every player on their roster is from Concord, it is NOT apples to apples."

"De La Salle will keep on winning without recruiting and everything else you accuse them of doing. Please continue to whine and believe that DLS recruits and gets the better players from all over the Bay Area."

A lot of what I read came off as misinformed, so let’s set the record straight.

  1. The recruiting issue. De La Salle does not actively recruit. The program’s success and reputation is the biggest recruiting tool out there. Are there parents who try to recruit? Absolutely, but that stuff goes on at public schools too. The notion De La Salle coaches are recruiting middle schoolers is beyond absurd and anyone who believes otherwise lives in a fantasy world.
  2. League placement. A lot of EBAL parents whine about De La Salle being in the league. Bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what league De La Salle is in, it’s going to dominate. Yes, it’s a public school league (other than DLS), but the EBAL is arguably the best league in Northern California. There isn’t a better alternative from a competitive equity standpoint aside from possibly the West Catholic Athletic League, which is made up of privates schools from San Jose up the peninsula to San Francisco. The Spartans have had some close games with WCAL teams in recent years, but they've all come in the first few weeks of the season. There isn't a team in the country that improves like De La Salle over the course of the season. By the time league play rolls around the Spartans are a different team. The last three years they have beaten Southern California’s best teams by 35, 40 and 14 points in the state bowl games. Each year, they’ve had at least one EBAL game that was more competitive.
  3. Quasi-independent. I've long been a proponent of quasi-independent status for De La Salle in football like it had with the Bay Valley Athletic League before it joined the EBAL in 2008. It can schedule five non-league games at the start of the season, then play five EBAL teams (likely San Ramon Valley, Monte Vista, Cal, Foothill and Amador Valley) to round out the schedule. Let's be honest — the EBAL title means nothing to DLS. It's all about winning state bowl games and, to a lesser extent, NCS titles. Why not keep the league title alive for teams that will see it as the ultimate goal? Everybody benefits from this scenario.

Does being a private school give De La Salle a distinct advantage over other schools? Definitely. There's no denying that. But that's not the end-all, be-all reason for the program's success. If it were, then Moreau Catholic of Hayward, Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland, Berean Christian of Walnut Creek and St. Mary's of Berkeley would compete for NCS titles every year. They don't, even in the lower divisions.

On the flip side, would De La Salle have the same success if its roster mirrored that of neighboring Ygnacio Valley High? Not a chance. Which is why I can understand the frustration of coaches who are charged with trying to scheme against DLS. It really is a stacked deck.

Is it always fair? No, but the last time I checked neither is life. You just have to deal with it. High school sports are supposed to enrich the educational experience. Playing against De La Salle does that. 

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Kyle Bonagura has covered high school football in the East Bay since 2000. Follow him on Twitter

Lynn Byrd December 19, 2011 at 04:17 PM
De La Salle doesn't have the biggest and fastest players in CA. They just work harder and have great coaching. If they recruited they would have an offensive line that averaged way over 230 pounds. Players want to play there. Concord High is another great example of great coaching and work ethic! This despite a smaller less athletic squad. Just admire what you're seeing.
mommie December 19, 2011 at 04:42 PM
I have a middle boy and I hear the stories. And even if you don't want to call it that kids that can't afford to go there and get scholarships for their talent that is even worst because you are paying them to play.
Sam Clemens December 19, 2011 at 05:38 PM
My sence is DLS players train harder, and for more months than public school teams. They are undoubtably better coached. No doubt they have stronger positive core beliefs than public school kids. (My perspective comes as a parent of a former HS soccer player who has observed DLS players in high school and club play) Perhaps DLS coaching staff could find a way to train and coach public school players and coaches to help them improve. DLS could position this as community service. Perhaps these exchanges would pave the way for more exchanges that would help the public schools to "think different" and improve their performance academically. Perhaps SRVSD could spin off a high school as a voucher/charter school with the flexibility and dedication to excellence in academics and athletics that DLS embodies. One such school would be an amazing driver of change in the remainder of the schools. We public school parents should demand that our schools raise their game. We should embrace the competition, work hard, and go step by step to better performance. That is what life is all about. Running away from the competition is poor example to set for teenagers.
Kyle Bonagura December 19, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Everyone hears the stories about the recruiting, none of them are factually based. Same with scholarships. Some students qualify for financial aide, but there are no free rides at DLS for athletes. If you hear otherwise, it's myth.
greg cross December 19, 2011 at 06:47 PM
De La Salle is good for the EBAL, raising the level of play in the league the last few years (see Gatorade State Player of the Year '11 from SRV and the run that the Cal High Grizzlies of 2010 had). Bottom line the State of California is taking notice. Cal High, Monte Vista and SRV have an opportunity to continue to schedule very tough non league opponents (e.g. WCAL' Serra, Mitty, St. Francis) and will bring even more attention to the i680 corridor from the recruiting services and Prep rankings. Some fans will feel robbed of NCS titles for their local schools and it is natural but the EBAL has a great thing going with DLS included.
greg cross December 19, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Something pretty funny happened in the way into the Home Depot Center Saturday night ahead of CIF Open game, a player from a Westlake rival school said that 9 players from Westlake's team (many of those who scored in the playoff run) were all from outside of the neighborhood. Likely a mix of reality and sour grapes.
Jill Taylor December 20, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Nice article Kyle. Thanks for trying to set people straight on the facts, but unfortunately people would rather believe otherwise. People would rather think it takes something more than kids with a strong work ethic led by great coaches.
Anne January 06, 2012 at 07:32 AM
Instead of focusing on the above comments I have a fundamental and important observation to add; the majority of the parents and students I have encountered during sports events from DLS are arrogant and extremely unsportsmanlike to the point I am so relieved my kids are in a public high school where this culture is NOT tolerated under any circumstances. I was raised as a Catholic and as a result, I was taught how to treat others on this earth; the DLS student body and parents are deeply offensive and I thought Christian values were instilled in a school like this. It's ironic that students in the public school system are learning how to be respectful and tolerant of others. Amen! And thank goodness the California public school system takes bullying more seriously than Catholic private high schools!!!
Patrick Swearingen December 03, 2012 at 06:36 AM
When a school has not lost to another Northern California opponent since 1991, there is much more going on than a strong work ethic, good coaching, and good values. To suggest that there are not a number of other Northern Cal programs that have equally adept coaches, as well as equally committed and quality kids, is insulting and ignorant. Point #1 told a half truth. DLS is like Mater Dei in Southern California. Anyone else catch the heartwarming story of Max Wittek, who replaced Matt Barkley at USC after the injury, growing up in Connecticut until it was time to play high school ball at Mater Dei in Southern California? Just a puddle jump from where he grew up to play football in Orange County. Yes, that perennial "success" is a great recruiter, but come on. When your record makes teams like the Yankees and Manchester United look inconsistent, there's more behind it than hard work and good coaching.
Sam Clemens December 04, 2012 at 12:29 AM
We should be applauding the choice DLS represents. We need vouchers so parents can fund winning athletic and academic programs like DLS. My guess is that DLS pays teachers based on performance, flushedbad teachers, Innovates as needed to improve results, compares itself against the best Hugh schools nationally and internationally. And I'll bet does it on a lower $/student than the public schools. So....the real issue is "don't discard the grading scale--DLS benchmark; rather fix the broken public school system. What sense doesake to be great against mediocre competition. It's a competitive global world. Compete or die.
Sam Clemens December 04, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Imagine.....vouchers so that every parent can pick a great school like DLS, not just those parents with extra $$$ or athletic talents.
Tom December 04, 2012 at 06:34 AM
May kids went to St Izzy and NO way was I going to send them to DLS and Carondelet. They thrived at SRVHS and both got into VERY good schools.
Tom December 04, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I am far closer this to this than the wtiter of this article. I have served on boards at St Izzy (no I did NOT put them in the debt they find themselves in). I know many kids at DLS as well as parents. The culture is the DLS parents have decided from the time the son is born they will go to DLS. It starts very early. I have seen CYO "A" teams picked a month before tryouts because there are a few power families that run everything at St Izzy. I have seen Dads that know several coaches by name but could not tell you the name of any of the teachers. DLS is a good school and does prepare you well for college. I will not dispute that but so does MV and SRVHS. The reason DLS does so well at football is a combination of reasons. #1 it starts at the head coach. #2 because he has built a program some people in move near so they can attend (see Joe Montana) (note it did not go well there for his son) #3 the DLS parents and kids value football far more than the public school kids. They put it a a much higher priority and as a result there is 100% all in attitude. I am not saying this is good or bad just that this is the way it is. We should NOT be measuring the worth of ANY HS by their football program. I could care less if SRVHS EVER wins another game. It does noyt mattter to me. I only care about the academics, safety and full positive experience on campus. Football has zero bearing on this to me.

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