The St. Vincent Mustangs have racked up some mileage in the past few years, and not just traveling to their football games.
The small Petaluma school has changed leagues several times in the past decade, bouncing among the North Central League II, NCL I South, the Bay Football League, and now, next season, back to the NCL I.
Moving back to the NCL I, in football only, will mean more travel time to the north, but will result in better competition, coach Gary Galloway said.
While in the Bay Football League this past season, the Mustangs played teams from Oakland, San Jose, Fremont and Emeryville. Even though those schools are outside the North Bay, they are actually nearer than some of the “local” schools St. Vincent will play in the NCL I.
But there was no built-in rivalries to spark emotion, and, more importantly, only one of those schools had a junior varsity program, which left the JV Mustangs gameless too often.
“Last year was the first time I remember where we got only seven JV games in, and we were scrambling for those,” said Galloway, who has coached at St. Vincent going on four decades.
“For those kids, the season is over too soon and you bring young kids up to varsity, some kids probably who would have a better time playing at the JV level.”
So St. Vincent asked to return to the NCL I, which already had eight teams: Cloverdale, Fort Bragg, St. Helena, Middletown, Willits, Kelseyville, Lower Lake and Clear Lake.
The now odd-number league will require each school to have a bye week, which some coaches weren’t so keen on, Galloway said.
But the move also returns St. Vincent to truly local competition and reunites rivalries that will be important not just for pride, but in the league standings as well.
Even when not in the NCL, the Mustangs have tried to schedule St. Helena, Cloverdale, Willits and Fort Bragg in baseball and football to keep traditions alive.
St. Vincent’s rivalry with Tomales dates to the 1950s, assistant coach Gary von Raesfeld said. And under the umbrella of the Coastal Mountain Conference that comprises the NCLs I, II and III, the Mustangs have a connection with Laytonville, Round Valley and other small schools throughout the region.
The move to the NCL I next season also keeps St. Vincent playing 11-man football, in contrast to several smaller schools including NCL III teams Tomales, Anderson Valley, Calistoga, Point Arena and others that have had to switch to eight-man football to keep their programs alive.
“I want to make sure that even though we’re a small school, we play 11-man football,” Galloway said.
St. Vincent, with an enrollment of about 250 kids, has played in the NCL I before, the NCL II and various combinations of the Bay league and an NCL I-South division for several years.
Galloway knows the competition in the NCL I will be tough, especially against schools that have more than double the enrollment as St. Vincent.
They will face strong football programs like Fort Bragg, which went 11-1 last season, and St. Helena, which finished 9-2. His Mustangs finished 2-2 in the Bay league last season and 3-7 overall.
On the move again
St. Vincent’s leagues
2016-17 – North Central League I
2015-16 – Bay Football League
2014-15 – NCL II
2013-14 – NCL II/Bay Football League
2012-13 – NCL II/Bay Football League
2011-12 – NCL II
2010-11 – NCL I-South
2009-10 – NCL I-South
2008-09 – NCL I-South
2007-08 – NCL I-South
2006-07 – NCL I-South
2005-06 – NCL I-South
2004-05 – NCL II