Award again lauds Branson’s athletic, academic prowess


Cooper Tenney

Students hold the Elmer C. Brown banner, Oct. 11, 2022. The North Coast Section award recognized Branson’s academic and athletic strength.

By Cooper Tenney

Branson received the North Coast Section Elmer C. Brown Award of Excellence for the third time in four years. The award is presented to the school with the best athletics, academics and sportsmanship throughout the year.

Schools that participate in NCS are awarded points for playoff successes in their respective divisions as follows: five points for first place, three points for second place and one point for third or fourth place. This does not count league (e.g. MCAL) playoffs or championships.

The points are recorded throughout the year and are published on the California Interscholastic Federation website. 

Branson narrowly edged out a 111-107 victory over Mission San José, a historically strong contender for the Elmer C. Brown award, being the only school to have won it more times than Branson.

“[Winning the award] is a validation for all of the hard work that all of our student athletes have put in, all of the work our coaches have done, all the work behind the scenes,” said Tyler Gottschalk, Branson’s associate athletics director.

There are 175 participating schools in the NCS listed on the official CIF website. NCS is the fourth largest section in California and stretches from Mission San José in Fremont to the Del Norte High School in Crescent City, near the Oregon border.

“For our little school of 320 [students] to win [the Elmer C. Brown award] three out of four years, speaks to a bunch of things: how important academics are in relation to sports here, and that all of our students care as much about their academic work as they do about their sport and excel at both,” Head of School Chris Mazzola said.

A school as small as Branson with fewer sports than most schools gives even more weight to the achievement. Sports that contribute to point totals at other schools that are not offered at Branson include wrestling, water polo, badminton and softball. 

“[Considering that] we don’t have as many sports as most of the other schools we’re competing against, … we need every single team to be performing at a very high level on the field and in the classroom,” Gottschalk said.

Just the fact that we compete at such a high level is amazing, and the icing on the cake is that we win and are awarded things like this.

— Chris Mazzola

The Elmer C. Brown award is the most prestigious accolade in NCS and has a competitive pool of schools that strive to achieve it.

“I’m not a proponent of ‘we have to win this award,’ but I think it comes to us because of the things we value,” Mazzola said. “Just the fact that we compete at such a high level is amazing, and the icing on the cake is that we win and are awarded things like this.”

The award is dedicated to the life of Elmer C. Brown, a former NCS commissioner and coach at Santa Rosa High School. He was known for his passion for athletics and strong support for academic success. 

The award has been around since the 2007-8 school year and has been presented each year, excluding the 2020-21 season, when the NCS playoffs were canceled because of the pandemic.

Additional points are awarded for academic success and sportsmanship. Each school submits grade point averages for each team and scholastic points are given each sports season. The sportsmanship award records the total number of ejections for both players and coaches for the whole year. 

Each school that has zero ejections for all sports is awarded 15 points in the sportsmanship category. Schools that have one ejection for the year in all sports are awarded 10 points. Schools are penalized for successive ejections, up to a maximum deduction of 15 points.

Branson was awarded the maximum 15 points for zero ejections on the year.

For Gottschalk, winning the award was “a real collective effort of the entire school” from student athletes, coaches and teachers alike.

NCS Commissioner Pat Cruickshank and Assistant NCS Commissioner Sonjha Phillips presented Branson with the 2021-22 award at an all-school assembly Oct. 11.

“To be recognized for academics and athletics by NCS with one of the highest honors is a testament to what we are working on here — sportsmanship and the pursuit of excellence,” Interim Athletics Director Frances Dillon said.