While the state bowl picture has brightened for the Central Section -- Washington High winning a bowl last year; Bakersfield and Mission Oak in excellent position to participate this season; and the field expanded with semifinals in December -- mighty Mendota remains in the dark.
And that's not going to change.
No matter if the Division VI Aztecs repeat a 12-0 season while outscoring the opposition 561-104, it's not going to change.
Dominance. Virtual perfection. No matter.
Why? It's an enrollment issue.
To review: The state bowl championships, entering their seventh season, match North and South teams in five games -- Open Division and Divisions I, II, III and IV. This season, for the first time, the finals will be preceded by regional semifinals.
The catch: Only D-IV has an enrollment cap (499). Meaning Mendota, with 670 students, is stuck in D-III for bowl purposes. And it's there, for example, that Mission Oak (1,395) and Wasco (1,644) are ranked by Cal-Hi Sports in the South, where the section is affiliated.
Mendota (3-0) is not ranked, and it's unlikely it will be against many schools double its size.
The answer: "Add a Division V," says Cal-Hi editor Mark Tennis, whose rankings have served as a virtual blueprint in the invitation process controlled by the state's 10 commissioners. "That would spread out the enrollment figures for smaller schools. As it is, there's a flaw. And there's a lot of debate what the right format should be."
For Mendota, it's a shame because the Aztecs have rising stars with the whistle (coach Beto Mejia) and the ball (junior All-State running back Edgar Segura).
"Winning a state bowl championship is on my to-do list," says Mejia, 15-0 in his second season after going 29-1 in three seasons with the junior varsity. "But unfortunately, at the end of the day, there's going to be some teams with the short end of the stick. And, right now, Mendota's one of them.
"We could continue to have success; we could go unbeaten for three years. But there will be schools that are more qualified because they have more resources to make it work. If you have 1,000 more students to choose from, it's just going to make you that much better. It's not fair. So it goes back to keep working hard and hopefully, some day, they'll change the rules."
Section Commissioner Jim Crichlow says there's no push to expand for a third time.
The bowls were launched in 2006 with three divisions, meaning, six schools participated.
The five-division format was adopted in 2008, meaning, 10 schools participated.
Then this season's added semis, meaning that 20 schools will participate.
And while all this is particularly encouraging for the Central Section -- which was shut out for the first five years before Washington closed a 14-0 season by defeating Campolindo-Moraga 21-16 for the 2011 D-III crown -- it benefits Mendota none whatsoever.
So the Aztecs plow forward in pursuit of the next-best thing -- a section title.
Not to suggest that isn't rewarding. Last year's section championship was the first for a west side school now in its 19th-year of existence.
"Man, it would be awesome to take this team to a state bowl, and win it," Mejia says. "But we'll never get the chance."