Is Tim Murphy still the football coach at Clovis East High?
He missed the team's final four games after leaving Oct. 17 to be with his father, Al, who was hospitalized with a stroke.
Murphy said then he would return to finish the season. He didn't.
All along, Timberwolves athletic director Pete Price has said the coach's absence was tied to his father's illness.
Even now, Price says, "Nothing's changed."
But Murphy hasn't responded since to interview requests about a program that has plunged to disturbing depths.
The Timberwolves have gone 9-24 in the past three seasons, including a 2-13 record in the Tri-River Athletic Conference. They were 77-22 under Murphy in their first eight years, with two Central Section Division I championships, two seconds and six TRAC crowns.
"A startling fall, considering where they were," Bullard coach Donnie Arax says. "They were feared. They were a machine."
The erosion started with Clovis Unified boundary changes, giving Clovis a boost in attendance while having the opposite effect on Clovis East.
Consequently, Clovis High -- hundreds behind Clovis East in student population five years ago -- is now up to 2,657 compared with Clovis East's 2,247, according to California Interscholastic Federation's most recent numbers.
Further, Gettysburg Elementary, historically rich in athletic harvest, has returned to the Clovis attendance area after feeding Clovis East in its glory years.
Bottom line: It's a gloomy forecast for Timberwolves football.
And even Arax of Fresno Unified power Bullard, which can only gain from a once rival's fall, finds discomfort in it all.
"This is not one to celebrate," he says. "It's kind of sad."
Should Murphy be replaced, a perfect fit might be found in the most improbable of places -- Mendota.
Coach Beto Mejia, with an iron-fisted, no-excuse approach, has in his first season a 10-0 Mendota team demolishing opponents to the tune of a 494-78 advantage in points scored.
Sure, you're quick to say -- West Sierra League and D-VI as opposed to the TRAC and D-I?
This is all about personality, demographics and minority-based Clovis East, which will continue to be the underdog in Clovis Unified.
Mejia wouldn't blink.
Good times in Madera
Community splits in high schools predictably result in hard times athletically, which have been experienced from Madera to Visalia, Hanford, Tulare, Porterville, Delano and Bakersfield.
So, working back up north, it's refreshing to see the gains in Madera, including:
-- Madera South's football program, 6-36 in its first four years, went unbeaten in the North Yosemite League and marches into the D-III playoffs Friday at home against Foothill with a 10-1 record.
-- Madera South's boys cross country team captured a fourth straight section title while priming for Saturday's CIF State Championships in D-II at Woodward Park.
And Madera's girls volleyball team returns to Joe Flores Gymnasium tonight for a Southern California Regional match against Downey after delivering one of the most remarkable section playoff comebacks on record -- a 3-2 D-II title win over Clovis North on Thursday in a match the Stallions escaped four match points in the fourth set and were down 12-10 in the 15-point fifth set.
CE hoops bonanza*
Exciting news for section boys basketball comes with an asterisk.
The first Clovis East Invitational on Dec. 7-10 has attracted a balance of local and out-of-area powers, featuring Long Beach Poly -- the state's winningest program, which finished ranked second in the state last year after being among the nation's top five for most of the season.
The catch: Semifinal night of the 12-team event will conflict on Dec. 9 with four division championships in section football.
That aside, the tournament will be unlike any in the section. Imports also count Crenshaw, Dominguez-Compton, Modesto Christian and Reno, in addition to a travel team from Australia. Representing the section will be Clovis East, Edison, Buchanan, Clovis North, Clovis and Memorial.