Please scream at me, I asked El Molino principal Doria Trombetta on Tuesday. Please tell me I am nuts, crazy, don't know what the heck I am talking about. Please tell me I couldn't be more wrong. Please. I would like to hear it. I want to hear it.
"I would like to say that," Trombetta said. "I really would."
That I should be crazy nuts to even suggest El Molino's student enrollment would ever drop to 500 kids. That's what I asked Trombetta to so strongly reject.
"We don't have a crystal ball," Trombetta said.
That 500 number was offered by El Molino athletic director Mike Roan as his best guess as the critical tipping point, when the school would have to consider leaving the Sonoma County League for a smaller conference or league. According to Roan, this year El Mo's student population is 672. In 2005-06 he said it was 1,039. The dramatic drop in students has been well-documented and tonight there will be another Town Hall meeting to discuss how to stop the decline.
"I don't expect it to get that low (500)," said Roan, but then again he never expected to see such a rapid rate of decline, a 35 percent drop in the student population in just six years.
Roan speculated that 500 students at El Molino would be the fewest kids the school could have and still be competitive in the SCL.
"I averaged out the student population at every SCL school," Roan said, "and it came out to 1,100 kids per school. If we go to 500, I don't see how we could make it work."
A smaller and smaller student body impacts a high school in every facet of daily life, from the ability to keep teachers and programs to the broad smorgasbord of diversified experience. Athletics is affected as much as any school activity and more than most, the gathering at games often being the single largest assemblage of students at any one time on campus.
"My son, Chris, played three sports at El Molino," Trombetta said of her 1999 graduate, "and I firmly believe what Chris learned playing sports is the reason he graduated with honors from West Point."
In America, more is better. The quest for bigger cars, bigger homes, bigger televisions and bigger waistlines is endemic. Why decorate your home with one string of icicle lights when you can cover every roof, window and square foot of lawn with every imaginable color and pop-up singing figurine? Quantity, yes, we like quantity.
But a small town with a small school offers advantages a big city and a big school can never match.
"If you want to play a sport at El Molino and are committed," Roan said, "I can guarantee you will play. If you want to play more than one sport, you can do that, too, at El Molino. In fact, we encourage it. We like to share athletes."
At large high schools, kids sometimes are forced — or strongly encouraged, to put it more delicately — by coaches to choose one sport to the exclusion of all others.
"Sometimes the message is indirect," said Roan, 40. (Although you're on a team), "you sit at the end of the bench and rarely play."