State

Sonora nears end of coach search

SONORA — Sonora High is closing in on its search for a new football coach, and could decide on the program's new leader as early as next week.

Robert Cendro resigned on March 20, after compiling a record of 108-55-1 in 15 years. His Wildcats won three Valley Oak League titles and took three trips to the playoffs.

Applications are being accepted from district employees through Friday, principal Todd Dearden said, pointing out that a "number of applications" have been received.

Cendro is the lone teacher on the football staff and there is no teaching position being offered with the coaching job, because of declining enrollment.

The new coach will need to make some fast decisions, including whether to retain the option offense and the 3-3-5 defense that Cendro's team ran.

The Wildcats open next season at home against Modesto Metro Conference champ Johansen, then visit Modesto and Davis before league play.

The Wildcats were 7-3 in the fall, including 4-3 in the VOL after injuries decimated their line. The good news is that Dan Link, a 6-foot, 175-pounder who ran for 1,365 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, returns for his senior season.

Sonora's returning personnel is only one attraction, Sonora athletic director Rick Francis believes. He said the quality of life in the foothills, combined with the school's facilities, would be appealing.

"We don't have all the problems of the big cities, like the gangs," he said. "We have some wannabes, but we don't have a gang problem. This is a great place to raise kids."

Sonora has a synthetic turf field and a few years ago USA Today ranked its stadium as one of the top 10 in the nation for watching football. Francis said new lights, a $150,000 project that will put the poles behind the bleachers, should be in place for this season.

Money also is being raised for an all-weather running surface around the field. The $350,000 project will have seven lanes on the straightaway and six lanes on the turns.

"We have an administration that has always been supportive of athletics and a community that has always been willing to support our programs and donate their labor for projects," Francis said.

"Even in tough economic times as these, we have a community that is always willing to help improve our facilities. We've got strong backs here."

While work on the facilities moves ahead, enrollment is going backward. Sonora had about 1,700 students a decade ago, Francis said, but will be down to 1,250 in the fall. Last week's news that the local lumber mill will close, and that up to 300 jobs will be lost in the community could force more families to leave.

If the decline continues, Sonora could move from the Valley Oak League to the Mother Lode League, Francis said. A typical VOL school has about 1,400 students, while MLL enrollments are closer to 800.

Francis recognizes the need for urgency. Sonora's league rivals — particularly Sierra, Manteca and Oakdale — have year-round weight-lifting programs and use the offseason to familiarize their players with changes to the playbook.

"We want our new football coach here as soon as possible," Francis said. "There are lots of things to get going."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com.

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