The wave is coming; do we want to be on it or under it?
That was how the question of whether to move boys soccer to the winter was described by Analy High School Principal Chris Heller.
It’s an apt description.
The wave pushing high school soccer to the winter season does seem to be cresting and it most certainly will give some larger, more competitive programs a better ride. But other teams and schools could very well get ground into the surf.
“Whether we are on top of the wave or below, the wave is coming,” Heller said. “Within the next two or three years, I think, it is inevitable that winter soccer is going to be here.”
At a special meeting at Piner High School Thursday, administrative representatives from the seven Sonoma County League schools voted 4-3 to move boys soccer from fall to winter for 2016-17 and to leave girls in the fall.
The debate wasn’t long or heated. Very few people were there in Piner’s auditorium. In fact, Piner’s athletic director Trish Delzell was critical of the timing of the meeting, saying parents and students could not reasonably be expected to attend at 7:30 a.m.
But like a wave building up off shore, this move has been debated for years. It reached a fever pitch in January when the North Bay League pulled up stakes and moved its boys season to the winter, leaving their cross-county rival scrambling — and with very few folks to play this fall.
“If the trend is going to winter and we don’t go, our kids will be put in position to travel farther,” said Andrew Ryan, assistant principal at Sonoma Valley High School. “Schools closest to us in the North Bay League are in the winter.”
The implications of the 4-3 vote to move are significant and myriad — and they differ from school to school. Analy, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma voted to move. El Molino, Elsie Allen and Piner voted to stay. A separate vote was taken to keep girls soccer in the fall, since their cross-county competitors in the NBL still play during that time of year.
“It’s tricky for principals to work through this,” said Petaluma Principal David Stirrat.
Petaluma is a good place to start. The Trojan boys won the North Coast Section championship last weekend, besting a fall Division 1 tournament field that included Fort Bragg, Kelseyville and eventual runner-up Fortuna. In football, all three of those schools are considered Division 4 and Petaluma is Division 3. In football, a Division 1 school’s enrollment has to top 2,000 students. In soccer this fall, D1 was considered 476 students or more.
That’s not the cream of the crop.
“When the NBL moved boys to winter, we were left with what we have now,” Stirrat said.
The Marin County Athletic League has also moved soccer to winter in the last year.
In the NCS this year, 74 schools play boys soccer in the fall and 81 schools play in winter. On the girls side, 48 schools play in the fall and 76 schools play in the winter.
Prior to the NBL and MCAL moves this season, the NCS tournament was dominated by those two leagues. Since 1996, an NBL team has won the NCS soccer championship 11 times; an MCAL team has won it seven times. On the girls side, the competition barely gets out of one league. The last five NCS championships have featured two teams: Maria Carrillo and Montgomery, and Carrillo has won all five titles.