When the Santa Rosa and Montgomery boys soccer teams take the field tonight, there will be a ton at stake.
On the line is likely the North Bay League championship in what has been a wild season of swapped wins, surprise losses and emotional contests. Also playing out tonight is perhaps the final act in a drama that has gone on largely behind the scenes over the midyear transfer of the most coveted high school player in the region.
Bryan Rosales’ academic struggles at one school, subsequent transfer to another and regulatory wrangling that followed may end up affecting more than the two squads on the field tonight as both sides contend the situation was mishandled.
Both sides say this isn’t about high school soccer. But it is. And it’s also about academics, a student’s future and playing fair.
How you feel about the transfer of Rosales from Santa Rosa to Montgomery in October very likely falls in line with what school you root for.
Let’s take a look.
Bryan Rosales, 16, grew up in El Salvador with relatives after his parents left for the United States when he was a toddler. Four years ago, he came to Santa Rosa to join them. He spoke no English and wrote no English, but he played soccer with gifts so obvious that Antonio Garcia, acting as a camp director for a free city program, saw Rosales messing around with the ball and invited him to train with the Santa Rosa United club he coached.
Rosales played for United, first for Garcia’s team, then others, for years. He still does. Last summer his way was paid to Northern Ireland to play in the prestigious Dale Farm Milk Cup against the likes of Liverpool’s development squad. This kid is on soccer’s radar. College coaches have reached out to his club team inquiring about his future.
When it came time to register for high school, Rosales had a choice to make. He attended Cook Middle School so could have matriculated to Elsie Allen. His family lived in Piner’s district so he could have been a Prospector.
But Rosales filled out the Santa Rosa City Schools paperwork for an intradistrict transfer and enrolled at Santa Rosa High, where Garcia was the varsity soccer coach.
“Coach Antonio, I wanted to play for him,” Rosales said. “He was my first coach in Santa Rosa.”
Rosales shined at Santa Rosa. And, by his telling, he loved it there.
“The environment and my friends,” he said. “I really liked the spirit. I really liked it there.”
But his grades, while enough to keep him eligible to play high school soccer, were not enough to make him NCAA eligible after graduation.
Enter Richard Cawood.
Cawood, a retired attorney, is the volunteer team manager for his son Ben’s United soccer team, the same team on which Rosales plays. In that role, Cawood said he’s seen firsthand the interest college coaches have in Rosales. Cawood said that for the past three years, he and his wife Ruth have supported Rosales’ soccer playing by paying team fees, buying gear and paying for his travel. They also tutored Rosales and bought him clothes and school books.
Cawood says he first learned of Rosales’ academic struggles from Garcia.