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Placer Union flexes football power

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Each year before the Christmas lights go up, football stadiums light up the autumn sky in the foothills. Home playoff games have become an annual tradition at Placer High, Del Oro and Colfax, leaving the lights shining, often through Thanksgiving. Foresthill is new to the game. The Wildfires will host a postseason game for the first time on Nov. 18 after they stormed to the Sacramento Metro Athletic League championship. Foresthill’s emergence gives the Placer Union High School District some serious bragging rights. What other district around can claim three league champions and a combined record of 36-4 (a .900 winning percentage)? “Probably since about midway through the season at every district meeting I’ve been telling people it’s a great time to be a high school football fan in the PUHSD,” said Jeff Tooker, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services. “How often can you say that all the teams in your district are championship caliber? It’s a reflection of the coaching staffs, the administrative support and of course very committed community support. “We have four different communities that are passionate about their programs. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this is happening.” Placer, Del Oro and Colfax will all host playoff games tonight in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Wildfires earned a first-round bye and will host a Division VI semifinal on Nov. 18. The schools are not in session today as they honor Veterans Day. Thursday was filled with pep rallies at each campus. The Hillmen got pumped for football, along with soccer, volleyball and cross country, which are all still vying for section titles. “Everyone gets fired up, not only for football, but it’s a chance to celebrate all our success,” Placer principal Peter Efstathiu said. “It’s a big morale booster. It gets the kids fired up, feeling like they’re a part of something.” Le Febvre Stadium will welcome thousands of fans tonight. A couple hundred of those rooters have direct ties to the team, but most are alumni, friends of players’ parents or simply community members backing their local team. “It’s been like that since I came here four years ago — the community really supports the school,” Efstathiu said. “I was at the volleyball match (Tuesday) and there were several parents whose kids had graduated years ago, but they enjoy coming out and supporting the team. And it’s not just sports, it happens with the theater (productions), or whatever is happening at the school.” Placer, Del Oro and Colfax will each collect thousands of dollars at the gate for tonight’s football games. They will turn the money in to the Sac-Joaquin Section office. The school is reimbursed for the costs of hosting the game – up to $1,700. Each visiting team is reimbursed for the cost of traveling to the game at a rate of $3 per mile. The home teams do collect the proceeds from the snack bar. “It’s nice to have someone oversee athletics and I know they have to be funded somehow,” Efstathiu said. “We don’t lose money, so that’s where the positive is. With the CIF there is value in it. We can’t have everything for free.” The section playoffs will conclude Dec. 3. Del Oro and Colfax are in the running for CIF State Bowl games, which will be held Dec. 9 and 10 in Carson. Teams must win their section title and be selected by the CIF’s selection committee to participate. Make no mistake, coach Casey Taylor at Del Oro and coach Tony Martello at Colfax are repeating the “one game at a time,” mantra constantly this week. Tooker has seen some great football over the years. He was an assistant coach at Del Oro for several years and has seen each team in the district multiple times this season. “I’ve become a high school football snob,” Tooker joked. He said there is great value in having successful teams at the local high schools. “It galvanizes a school, galvanizes a community,” Tooker said. “The school year is a lot more fun when the teams are doing well. It’s something fun and wholesome to rally behind. The student sections at these games — it’s exactly what a school tries to do — give students something quality and fun to do on a Friday night. And they’re showcasing other programs — music, cheer, dance, leadership. It’s not all about football.” ------------------- Tonight’s playoff games Patterson at Placer, Sacramento at Del Oro, Dixon at Colfax, Bear River at Sonora Game time: 7 p.m. Cost: $9 for adults, $5 for students (with student body card) and children