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Healdsburg High School football team back after canceled season

News that last year’s Healdsburg High School varsity football team voted to end its season after two crushing losses spread around the nation.

Sports talk show hosts and fans pontificated about how the boys and coaches were “quitters,” evoking in derision football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

Despite the public shaming, the athletes - who voted to abandon the season after losses of 41-0 and 61-0 - and their coaches feel they did the right thing, then and now.

Today, just short of the ?one-year anniversary of that decision, the cacophony of whistles, shouts and grunts at football practice comes as welcome noise on the Healdsburg campus.

Football has risen from the dead at Healdsburg High.

Principal Bill Halliday described the mood of the ?new-look Greyhounds varsity team as “optimistic, competitive, fun.”

“We’ve had a lot of boys who did very consistent work on conditioning. They’ve had swim parties and barbecues, nice social stuff going on with the team. Big smiles,” he said.

“I couldn’t predict our wins and losses. But our coaches say we could surprise some people.”

It was a surprise to the outside world last August when the team held an anonymous ballot on whether to continue the rest of the season with a roster that had dwindled to 12, barely big enough to field either an offense or a defense - but certainly not both. And certainly not safely.

But then-coach Dave Stine said it was no shock to him.

Stine, now the logistics coordinator for the program and a varsity assistant, brings out a 2016 varsity roster with freshmen and sophomore players’ names highlighted. Of 11 underclassmen, five moved and one became ineligible to play, leaving less than half-a-dozen players headed toward varsity. That foretold a slim showing for the following two years.

“Nine kids showed up for the first spring practice,” Stine said of last season. The Greyhounds couldn’t play their first fall scrimmage because not enough players had completed the required number of practices.

In just a few weeks, it was over. Then, social media and sports talk (mostly) savaged the decision.

A few choice Facebook comments, apparently from adults:

“Good life lesson. If things don’t go your way, QUIT. WTG Parents.”

“Suit up and get back out there until you win.”

“Would you expect any less from California? Can’t have the kids suffering the emotional trauma that comes from realizing there is someone bigger, faster, stronger, more talented ... take your pick.”

“Way to teach kids how to lose gracefully. Another example of spoiled children throwing a tantrum and quitting!”

Emilio Medina, a junior when the vote went down, said he tried not to give much energy to the unwelcome attention.

“It was like they were trying to shame us,” he said. “I wasn’t that concerned with it. Everyone gets to have their judgment.”

Medina, who plays defensive end, fullback and tight end, and a few others from varsity last year played with the JV team to keep their skills sharp.

It was there that they formed bonds with Shaun Montecino, who was then the JV coach but now has taken over varsity.

Along with the new 26-year-old ?leader, the team has fresh jerseys, their own locker room, new equipment and a rebuilt turf field.

“We want them to know we are going to start new traditions,” Montecino said. “It’s already picking up and we’re having fun.”

Several players said the enjoyment and success they had with Montecino on JV encouraged them to come out for varsity this season. Medina and seven other players from last year’s varsity team will suit up this season. This year’s varsity roster has 31 players on it.

Still, the fallout from last season’s emotional and abrupt ending had to be addressed with the team before it could move on.

“They were being treated very unfairly on social media and in the press,” Halliday said. “I felt like many adults acted incredibly judgmentally and improperly. We had our coaches talk to the kids. I talked to them in groups of one, two and three.

“They frankly knew they made the right decision. Some were very unhappy, and the seniors didn’t get that experience,” he said. “But even the ones who were really gutted and hurt, in their heart of hearts, they knew they made the right decision. We took comfort in that.”

For senior Brian Garcia, last year’s quarterback who will start at running back this year, it was the right personal decision, even if not ideal: “It was just really discouraging.”

Both Stine and Halliday called this year a success already, being able to field both varsity and junior varsity teams. Solid participation bodes well for the future, particularly for a school that has seen a decade of declining enrollment but takes pride in its athletic programs.

While Halliday said the football players don’t feel like they must shake the “quitter” label, Stine said some are definitely playing with a chip on their shoulder.

“They heard people say, ‘Healdsburg is no good. They can’t even field a team,’” he said. “They want to prove them wrong.”

The first home game, Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m., will be the perfect opportunity. That’s when the Greyhounds host Justin-Siena of Napa, the team they lost to 61-0 last year in a game that drove the final nail in their season’s coffin.

Word on the street is that Justin-Siena players are saying they made Healdsburg quit, Montecino said.

“That will be a very personal game for some of these kids,” he said. “They don’t want to end it on that note.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

Lori A. Carter

 Sonoma County courts and Rohnert Park, The Press Democrat

Local journalism is vital to a community's wellbeing, and that means keeping an eye on what happens in our justice system and our communities. I cover Sonoma County courts, as well as the city of Rohnert Park. In my work, I want to share the stories that affect our daily lives and, yes, maybe even rile us up. 

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