Denair wrestlers Vrioni, Coronel make it to second day of Sub-Section Meet before being eliminated

For both Christian Vrioni and Evan Coronel, this wrestling season was a time of unexpected success and impressive growth. The two Denair High athletes each showed flashes of the kind of potential that has their coach excited about their futures.

Vrioni, a junior competing at 157 pounds, and Coronel, a sophomore wrestling at 190, each made it to the second day of the Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section Meet last weekend in Sacramento before being eliminated. Those results came a week after the two Coyotes had fought their way to Southern League championships.

Denair Coach Bryan Herrington said Vrioni and Coronel each made big strides toward establishing themselves as among the top wrestlers at their weights heading into next season.

“If you add up his total wrestling experience, it’s less than six months,” Herrington said of Vrioni, who wrestled briefly as a freshman and not at all as a sophomore before rejoining the team this season.

As for Coronel, “The first time he sent foot on a wrestling mat was Oct. 26,” Herrington marveled. 

At the Sub-Section Meet – which features the top wrestlers from all the small schools in the region – Vrioni and Coronel enjoyed first-round byes Friday because they were league champions.

Vrioni won his first match 7-4 over Hunter Schneider of Amador, then was pinned by Owen Keslinger of Amador, who went on to win the 157-pound title. That dropped Vrioni into the consolation bracket on Saturday. He pinned Ivan Chirskiy of Future to make the consolation quarterfinals. Needing one more win to make the top six and have a chance to qualify for this week’s Masters Meet, Vrioni was pinned by Gage Masters of Highlands in second period.

“I have zero complaints,” Herrington said. “He wrestled tough. He didn’t wrestle scared. … He’s going to keep wrestling in the offseason. I don’t see any reason he’s not competing at the Masters Tournament next year. I think that’s very impressive.”

Coronel also won his first match Friday, pinning Isaac Anderson of Wheatland in the first period. Like Vrioni, Coronel was beaten in the next match 9-6 by Lincoln Garel of Union Mine. His season ended Saturday morning when he was pinned by Saifubra Ghaws of Highlands in the first round.

“He went from knowing nothing to competing at the varsity level and being successful,” Herrington said of Coronel. “I cannot have any complaints.”

A third Denair wrestler, freshman Josiah Ruelas at 106 pounds, got into the Sub-Section Meet as an alternate and lost both his matches. “It was good experience for him,” Herrington said.

Vrioni, Coronel and Ruelas are expected to participate in the Denair youth wrestling program known as the Den run by Herrington. That season starts in mid-March and runs into first week of June. The weekly tournaments provide exactly the kind of competition that Denair’s young athletes need to improve.

“The goal every year is to get somebody in Masters, but I feel like next year, maybe we’ll get two or three,” Herrington said. “I’m very optimistic moving forward. I should have 10 to 15 returners on our team next year.”

Denair boys soccer team wins playoff opener

Goliath Padilla scored twice in the first half – once on a penalty kick and the second time on a booming shot after eluding three defenders – to lead the top-seeded Denair boys soccer team to a 2-1 home victory over Woodland Christian on Friday night in the first round of in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs.

Denair (20-6-2) advances to play No. 5 Millennium (7-7-2) of Tracy, which defeated Waterford 5-0. The match is Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Jack Lytton Stadium.

The Coyotes are shooting for their third Section title in a row. Despite dominating the ball Friday, they couldn’t quite shake eighth-seeded Woodland Christian (6-8).  

“Our defense was really good,” praised Denair Coach Antonio Padilla. “They only had two shots the whole game and one went in.”

Manny Renteria, Nico Zavala and Octavio Balle keyed the Coyotes’ stingy defense, which was too much for Woodland’s offense. Balle left briefly late in first half with sore knee, but came back to finish the second half.

“He told me, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I need for the team,’ ” Padilla said.

Goliath Padilla – the son of the coach – and Denair’s offense controlled the ball for much of the game, keeping Woodland’s defense on its heels.

Padilla’s first goal came on a penalty kick in the first half after he was pushed from behind near the box. Woodland managed to tie the score at 1-1 at halftime, but Padilla came through again early in the second half with the winning goal. He dribbled through three Woodland defenders, then launched a missile past the goalie. It was his 35th goal of the season.

“He had a tough angle,” his father said. “It was a beautiful goal — very powerful past the goalkeeper.”

Denair threatened to expand its lead with multiple shots after that, but couldn’t find the net.

“We tried,” Antonio Padilla said. “Their keeper was good. It was just one of those days.”

Denair hopes to have another one of its top players, Diego Padilla, back for the match against Millennium. He has been out with a sore right quad.

The other Division VI semifinal has No. 2 Esparto (14-6-1) hosting No. 3 (11-9-1) on Tuesday. The championship match is Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

Cost of replacing upgrading facilities is $45.1 million, Denair Unified school trustees are told 

The cost of replacing aging buildings and kitchens and modernizing classrooms is only getting more expensive in the Denair Unified School District. Thursday night, trustees heard an updated report that estimated the price tag at $45.1 million.

That wish list includes big-ticket items like a two-story classroom building at Denair High School to replace modular buildings that never were intended to be used this long. At Denair Elementary Charter Academy, the needs include new classrooms, a new library, a relocated kitchen and main office, and an improved parking, pick-up and drop-off area to create a single point of entry that also is more efficient for buses as well as delivery vehicles. Denair Charter Academy also would be reconfigured to create a single point of entry.

The district doesn’t have nearly enough money in its bank account to pay for all those things, nor can it expect the state to foot the entire bill. Like most school districts, that means asking residents to pass a school bond that would raise the necessary funds. The bonds are repaid over many years through assessments on property owners’ taxes.

Trustees will have to decide by June whether to put a bond of up to $32.1 million on November’s ballot. To pass, it would need to be approved by at least 55% of voters.

Property owners in the Denair district currently are paying off two bond measures – Measure P, passed in 2001, and Measure K, passed in 2007. District officials said the plan is for the 2001 bond to be paid off in 2028 before any new bond would go into effect, thereby not raising property tax bills.

“Most people want to know how you can raise $30 million without raising taxes. The goal is to raise the most money with the least impact on taxpayers,” acknowledged Khushroo Gheyara, executive vice president of Caldwell Winters Flores. CFW is the Emeryville company that helped Denair create and update its facilities master plan, which lays out the district’s needs.

Gheyara cited property data that estimates the total value at $1.7 billion within the Denair district, more than enough to support a bond measure like the one Denair is considering. He also pointed to a 2022 survey of residents that indicated 63% would support a school bond vs. 34.5% against. He recommended to trustees that another survey be taken this spring to gauge current opinions.

Daisy Swearingen, the district’s chief business official, told trustees though there is some modernization-related money likely available from the state, most of it requires school districts like Denair to put up what are called matching funds. The only way to do that typically is through school bonds.

“For qualifying modernization projects, the state funds 60 cents on the dollar and the district matches the remaining 40 cents. The facility also must be over a certain age to qualify,” Swearingen explained.

Swearingen stated that the district will continue to seek other sources of funding – including any available state grants – but that will not provide nearly enough money to pay for Denair’s long-term needs. 

Since the board last heard about facilities needs in October, the number of potential projects has grown — and so has the price tag.

“This is an initial proposed project list with preliminary cost estimates only. We believe there are areas where we can sharpen the pencil on some of the projections,” Swearingen said.

Trustees are scheduled to take a walking tour this Sunday of the district’s four campuses to learn more about what is needed. 

House system made famous in ‘Harry Potter’ novels engages students at Denair Middle School

Denair Middle School will never be confused with the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry made famous in the “Harry Potter” series, but the two educational settings do have something in common – an organizational structure in which students and staff are divided up into what are known as Houses.

In author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” adventures, the Hogwarts Houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. At DMS – which implemented the House system at the beginning of the current school year – they are known as Amethyst, Onyx, Diamond and Titanium.

At Thursday night’s meeting of the Denair Unified School District Board, trustees heard a presentation from the middle school’s principal, students and a staff member about how the House system is working.

The concept is simple. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are evenly divided into four Houses, with students from each grade represented in each House. All the teachers and most of the support staff also are assigned a House. At DMS, there are about 70 students and 10 adults per House.

The students earn points for their House by working together to model positive behavior, support each other and compete in fun events against the other Houses. At the end of the year, the House with the most points will have its name etched on a permanent trophy.

Leadership teacher Clayton McDonald heard about the House system at a California Association of Directors of Activities conference he attended last year. Intrigued by the idea, he did some research online and found that it is used by schools representing different grade levels across the country. He pitched the concept to Principal Gabriela Sarmiento and she signed off, paving the way for it to be implemented at the beginning of this school year.

“We’ve been leaning into it,” McDonald told trustees. “At rallies, instead of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders sitting separately, they sit by Houses. We have friends competing with each other. It’s fun.”

Students are recognized and can earn points for extracurricular activities, participation in Spirit Week and rallies, wearing T-shirts with their House colors and competing during lunchtime in games like pickleball, basketball, volleyball and handball. Videos played Thursday night showed students excitedly working and playing together in many different situations.

Sarmiento said the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. A student survey showed that they enjoyed mixing with people from other grade levels.

“Students who wouldn’t otherwise engage in an activity together are working together,” she said. “At the very least, it breaks that ice and they’re not strangers.”

Three students who spoke Thursday night echoed that reaction. 

“The best part is getting to talk to kids from other grades,” said eighth-grader Alexa Camacho, who is a member of House Onyx.

Seventh-grader Galilea Padilla, part of House Amethyst, hopes “it will unite our school and promote a positive culture.”

Eighth-grader Victor Sarmiento — the principal’s son and a House Diamond member – said, “The competitions are fun.”

Board members complimented the students and McDonald for how quickly they were able to launch the House system. Students in McDonald’s Leadership class met over the summer so the program was ready to go when school began in mid-August.

“I’m impressed you guys gave up parts of your summer to organize this. Keep the spirit going,” said Trustee Crystal Sousa.

Added Trustee Kathi Dunham-Filson: “Congratulations to you guys – you’re the founders. I’ve never seen kids at your rallies so excited and bought in.”

Gabriela Sarmiento said the next step is identify ways to integrate all the positive energy from the House system into the classroom.

“It’s great to provide opportunities for students to collaborate and have fun activities, but as a staff this week, we just started the conversation about how to incorporate academics into it,” she said.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard an update from Superintendent Terry Metzger on the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, and the progress Denair is making toward its LCAP goals.
  • Approved an overnight trip for 10 Denair FFA students to attend the California State FFA Leadership Convention on March 21-24 in Sacramento. The conference includes convention general sessions and workshops, a career show, a FFA national shop and more. Students must pay the $220 per person registration cost; the Denair Ag Boosters will cover food, transportation and lodging.
  • Authorized the Denair High School Sober Grad Committee to host Grad Night 2024 at Boomers in Modesto. Students will be transported from Denair High to Boomers at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 24 and return to Denair High School at approximately 2:30 a.m. All seniors in good standing are eligible to attend.
  • Ratified the 2024-25 comprehensive safety plan for the district’s four campuses.

Denair boys soccer team earns No. 1 seed in playoffs

For the third consecutive year, the Denair boys soccer team was chosen as the No. 1 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs. The previous two times, the Coyotes walked away with the coveted blue banner signifying a Section championship. They certainly can hope history repeats itself when this year’s tournament begins Friday night.

Denair (19-6-2) will host No. 8 Woodland Christian (6-7) at 6 p.m. at Jack Lytton Stadium in the first round. A victory would earn the Coyotes another home match Tuesday against the winner of Friday’s meeting between No. 4 Waterford (11-10-1) and No. 5 Millennium (6-7-2) of Tracy. Denair faced Waterford twice during the Southern League season and won both matches.

Denair finished third in the Southern League behind Delhi and Orestimba, larger schools that are both in the Division V playoffs. The Coyotes had a chance to finish second but lost 1-0 to Orestimba on Tuesday. 

After winning Section titles the past two seasons, Denair has made it to the second round of the Northern California Division V tournament.