When did the Peninsula Athletic League come into existence?
Although it may not be definitive, the earliest mention of a prep sports championship in San Mateo County has been provided by Ed Nordness, a keeper of sports history at Sequoia High School.
He has information indicating that the Cherokees won a league baseball title in 1908. An actual league is not named, however.
Meanwhile, more evidence of a high school sports league on the Peninsula can be found buried in the basement floor archives of the Burlingame Public Library.
Microfilm of hoary editions of the Burlingame Advance Star, a defunct Peninsula newspaper, indicates that “San Mateo Union High School” defeated “Palo Alto,” 6-3, in a “league” rugby match in October 1914.
The rudimentary grouping was said to consist of those two schools, along with San Jose High School and the St. Matthew’s Military Academy (now St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School) in San Mateo, according to the Advance Star’s brief account.
It was a modest beginning. By the early 1920s, the Peninsula Athletic League had been formed. A 1925 report referred to it as one of the few formal high school athletic arrangements in all of California at that time.
A year later, the league strode onto California’s big prep sports stage when San Mateo High School’s football team won the state championship.
By the 1930s, the far-flung PAL included public schools from Jefferson High School in the north to San Jose in the south.
The post-World War II era saw tremendous population growth along the Peninsula. New secondary schools were opened with regularity right into the first half of the 1960s.
The PAL grew accordingly. Something had to give. Local PAL schools were eventually divided up into the South Peninsula Athletic League, the Mid-Peninsula League and the North Peninsula League to accommodate the surge in student numbers and rampant school construction.
Even Serra High School, at one point in the 1950s, requested entry into the PAL. The proposed move by the Catholic school was turned down by league officials on a close vote.
When a drastic enrollment slump began to drain the region of students 40 years ago, retrenchment in earnest began.
Three schools (Cubberley, Ravenswood and San Carlos highs) in the SPAL, one (Crestmoor High School) in the MPL and two (Oceana and Serramonte highs) in the NPL eventually were closed.
Oceana later re-opened as a specialized small school; today it has 600 students and a limited sports program. In 1995, it was determined to merge all of the remaining schools, Oceana included, into one mega-league under one administration.
Today, the PAL includes 17 primary public school members (not all schools offer all sports), along with nine supplementary private schools which compete in a few selected sports, including football and baseball.