On a wet, cold Friday earlier this month, nearly 1,400 raucous fans turned out in Millbrae to view a set of four Peninsula Athletic League basketball games between boys and girls teams from host Mills High School and visiting rival Burlingame.
The turnout at the glittering, expanded Mills gymnasium — which features ample seating on all four sides, closed-circuit TV, a new snack bar, a spectacular glass-walled lobby and other sparkling additions — represented one of the largest crowds of the year in San Mateo County for basketball at any level.
For Mills, it was by far the biggest home basketball gathering since the school opened more than 50 years ago. Those in attendance were entertained during the final two contests by the driving rhythms of the tireless Mills pep band, gyrating varsity cheerleaders from both schools and the nimble Mills dance squad. The joint, as they say, was jumpin’. And then some.
The bottom line: It was one more upbeat indication that the PAL continues to evolve and adapt.
In terms of facilities, crowd counts, student-athlete participation and overall organization and governance, the PAL is forging ahead briskly right now as it and its member schools change with the times.
This circumstance, which cannot be measured only in terms of wins and losses, has been years in the making. The improvements have been incremental but quite substantial when taken as a whole, historic in fact.
All the while, the PAL’s 17 signature public schools, stretching from Daly City to Menlo Park and over to the Coastside, along with a collection of associated private schools, have made it a point to endeavor to adhere to tenets that nourish and instruct teen student-athletes, with an emphasis on the “student” part of the equation.
Terry Stogner has been commissioner of the PAL for the last nine years. Before taking that post, he was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Carlmont High School in Belmont, from which he graduated in 1960. All told, he spent 42 years at the school.
The PAL executive position has proven to be a natural step for him. And it has come at a propitious time, just as the five member public school districts, for the most part, were in the process of dramatically upgrading their athletic amenities, from football/soccer fields and swimming pools to gymnasiums and tennis courts. The total cost of this frenzy of sports construction throughout the county, the bulk of it funded by generous taxpayers (and some significant donations), is estimated to be close to $200 million. And more is coming.
Through the years, Stogner, with the considerable assistance of the PAL’s policy-makers, has been able to institute key changes designed to upgrade the league and its sports offerings even as the PAL comes to grips with the county’s big demographic shifts, distinctly different levels of member schools’ funding capacities/administrative commitments, overall resources and other factors bearing on competitive athletics from school to school.
Besides the huge outlays for new and improved sports facilities, the league, during Stogner's busy tenure, has, among other things:
• Moved back mid-week starting times for some sports (volleyball and basketball in particular) to make them more accessible for more fans.
• Continued to increase the number of Friday night football games.
• Solidified the PAL post-season basketball tournament which is being played this week, beginning Wednesday night.
• Adjusted the basketball schedule to allow for more traditional rivalry quadruple-headers on Fridays. Stogner explains, “Schools make their money on Fridays.”
• Added supplementary private schools to the 2014 baseball schedule to accommodate competitive balance, especially in the North County where interest in baseball is waning.
• Brought back junior varsity teams and adding more freshman teams (2014-15).
• Instituted “open rosters” (2014-15) to allow much more flexibility between varsities and their feeder teams during a full season.
• Continued to seek reasonable parity between boys’ and girls’ sports.
• Embraced online broadcasts of selected football and basketball games.
• Strongly encouraged charging for admission to as many contests as possible.
Stogner, through the decades, has learned how to deal with hundreds of coaches, athletic directors and principals (the PAL Board of Managers which has ultimate authority). As he puts it, “To create change, you have to sell it. Group dynamics are very important.”
He attends close to 60 administrative meetings per year, including those of the Central Coast Section (which became a separate California Interscholastic Federation section in 1965); the PAL is an integral and original part of CCS. “The politics,” he notes, “are fascinating.”
The PAL office’s operating budget is $170,000 (each school/district handles its own gate receipts, booster funds and other revenues).
Stogner’s contract states that he works 10 months out of 12 (he’s off much of the summer), 25 hours per week. He is paid $40,000.
He estimates that the PAL’s 8,000 male and female athletes compete in more than 1,700 league games and matches during the course of a typical school year.
There are at least 1,000 PAL coaches, many of them non-faculty members, at all levels of competition. It can be a challenge to make sure each PAL school properly vets and monitors its off-campus coaches. There are also player transfer and eligibility issues to consider.
Stogner oversees league activities from his modest office on the second floor of the headquarters building of the San Mateo County Office of Education in Redwood Shores.
He has a secretary; she works the grand total of one day a week. The PAL is not a one-man show. But it’s closer to a solo act than you might imagine.
John Horgan can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.