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Benefield: Parents, Schools Plus pitch in to warm up soccer in Santa Rosa

Kathy Doig remembers sitting in the stands at a Santa Rosa High girls soccer game a couple of years back, feeling cold to her core and wondering how the girls on the field - and those sitting on the bench - must have felt.

North Bay League soccer had just moved from fall to winter for both girls and boys and the move had almost instantly highlighted some infrastructure needs. First, there was no rain shelter on the sidelines. Second, the squad didn’t have coats.

“It was miserable to watch and it was miserable to watch the girls freezing,” Doig said. “It was really rough that first season.”

So Doig got to work. She made calls to clothing companies to get quotes, but her timing was off - winter orders are made in the summer. Inventory was low to nonexistent. Plus, they were expensive. Fellow parents kicked around ideas: Parent donations? An SRHS Foundation request?

The coat conversation pretty ?quickly morphed into a bigger plan. If Santa Rosa High’s girls team needed winter coats, surely the boys team did too. And that likely meant that so did Piner and Montgomery and Elsie Allen and Maria Carrillo’s teams. The project just got bigger.

Doig’s friend and fellow Santa Rosa High soccer parent, Jennifer Richardson, raised the idea of reaching out to Schools Plus. Launched in 1991 when Santa Rosa City Schools was on the verge of cutting spring sports because of budget issues, the nonprofit group has been raising funds and doling out dollars to district schools for three decades, with the focus always on arts and athletic programs.

The nonprofit board anticipates this year’s allocation will be $17,000 each to all five high schools, $6,500 each to all five middle schools and $6,500 to Ridgway High.

But this was different. Schools Plus leaders had been kicking around the idea of making donations - in the form of individual grants - to programs above and beyond the even-steven annual school allotments. They set aside $65,000 and asked for applications. Board members encouraged Doig to submit a plan.

Doig downplayed her role, calling herself just a “parent liaison.” But someone had to keep after it. Someone always does.

Working with Schools Plus founding member and retired teacher John Bribiescas, Doig submitted a grant application on behalf of all five Santa Rosa City Schools high schools and all 10 varsity soccer teams. The grant for $26,500 - 20 jackets per team - was approved in June. The jackets, complete with images of school mascots and the Schools Plus logo on the back, were ordered from Kombat Soccer in July. To save the group shipping costs, Kombat Soccer owner Roger Smith volunteered to have the company drive the 30 boxes of jackets from Sacramento to Doig’s Santa Rosa home.

By October, her living room looked like a warehouse. She delivered some boxes; others were picked up by coaches. A principal even came by to get her school’s load of jackets.

“It was amazing, that Schools Plus connection,” Doig said.

And that connection focused on equity among the schools.

“They are identical jackets,” Doig said. “It gives parity to all of the schools - Oak League, Redwood League, all schools have the same level of gear.”

Any teams that already had winter coats - there were a couple - passed them down to their junior varsity squads.

Although the new grant gives Schools Plus liberty to give some schools and programs money beyond the annual allotment, making the jacket purchase for all five high schools in the initial grant cycle felt important, said Schools Plus board member? Ashley Haskins.

“I think it was a visual way to show community support for all five of the high schools because it’s a cornerstone of what Schools Plus does,” she said.

Former Schools Plus president Brendan Kunkle called making the jacket purchase part of the group’s first-ever grant allocation a “no-brainer.”

“This is something that is truly going to have an impact on these athletes,” he said. “We are keeping them warm.”

And then there is this. The Schools Plus endowment committee this week voted to give this annual grant a name. It will now be called the John F. Bribiescas Special Needs Grant.

Bribiescas, an unabashed cheerleader for Schools Plus for nearly three decades, was a ?crucial part of making the first-ever grant allocation work and putting jackets on the backs of some 200 athletes, Doig said.

And that work is on display just about every night of the week through the winter, as squads zip up to ward off the cold. Doig sees it every time the Panthers play.

“Honestly, this sounds super cheesy, but I would say it has increased the joy the girls have,” Doig said. “They seem lighter because they are warm.”

Not cheesy at all - in fact, it warms the heart.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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