The news that Novato High School was considering not having a varsity football team this season came as a shock to local coaches.
Last week, the Marin County high school petitioned the Marin County Athletic League to be allowed to discontinue its varsity football team and play junior varsity football only this season.
Monday, the school decided to keep its varsity team after more than 20 players showed up for the first day of mandatory practice.
The initial petition was submitted following the resignation of head coach Jason Searle in late July and a summer when only a handful of upper classmen participated in football-related activities.
“It’s sad and scary for our sport,” said Petaluma High coach Rick Krist. “I’m afraid for our sport.”
Krist’s Trojans played Novato in the 2015 North Coast Section playoffs, winning an exciting 38-20 decision.
Krist said he wasn’t familiar with what led up to the initial decision by Novato officials, but did note that there seemed to be less emphasis on football in the last couple of years.
The Petaluma coach also observed that high school football in general was being hurt by the news emphasis on NFL concussions.
“High school football gets really bad publicity by the impact of what’s happening in the NFL,” he said. “It is apples and oranges. High school gets lumped into the same category with the NFL and that’s probably not fair.”
The coach said the turnout for Petaluma football was “comfortable,” with about 30 to 35 players out for the varsity and about 20 freshmen showing up for their first taste of varsity football.
When he heard there was a possibility that Novato would be dropping varsity football, Casa Grande coach Denis Brunk said he felt sorry for the players.
“I don’t know how or why this happened. Novato used to be a powerhouse. I think it is really sad,” he said.
Although his program was never in danger of losing its varsity team, Brunk did have to rebuild a faltering team at Santa Rosa High School when he took over as head coach two years ago. Last year the Panthers won a North Coast Section playoff game for the first time.
“The first year was a challenge,” he said. “Our numbers were low. Last year we concentrated on putting the kids first and focusing on academics. The kids bought into it and our staff did a good job of bringing them together.”
In his first year at Casa Grande, Brunk has more than 30 players on the varsity and around 30 on both the junior varsity and the freshman teams.
St. Vincent coach Gary Galloway is admittedly facing a numbers crunch where school enrollment is down. Before school starts he has 18 players out for both the varsity and junior varsity teams and the majority of those players are freshmen and sophomores.
“I’m a little shocked,” he said of the Novato situation. “How did it happen? I’m sure it was a combination of things. You can’t just say it was the concussion talk. There had to be a bunch of things that led up to it.”
Galloway is determined to keep both a varsity and junior varsity team at St. Vincent if at all possible. “We owe it to the kids,” he said.