Padecky: SCL soccer vote an imperfect decision with repercussions

This issue - while discussed and dissected to the most minute of detail by intelligent and thoughtful principals and athletic directors - will end badly for some.|

If no one is wrong and yet there is marked disagreement, how can everyone be right?

Sounds like a third-grade brain teaser or a question which belongs either in a college philosophy class or part of a MENSA entrance exam. No matter. This is what happens when you try to mix fall with winter, ambition with perspective, the haves with those who don’t have as much.

“Whatever we do,” said El Molino school principal Matthew Dunkle, “we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”

The Sonoma County League decided Thursday morning to continue to play boys soccer in the fall and not follow the North Bay League into the winter. Arguments for it made sense: Increased competition and less wear and tear on the fields during the fall. Arguments against the move also made sense: Winter rains (it has happened) would chew up the fields to unsafe levels and the smallest schools would find it damn near impossible to find competition in the winter to match their enrollment size because the competition they now face remains in the fall.

“I think we’ll come back and revisit this (decision) in December,” said Kathryn Teeter, Petaluma’s athletic director.

And come December, as examples, Healdsburg’s Rec Park still will be a swamp in the rain, Petaluma won’t have a turf field and their out-of-league opponents of comparatively the same size will still play in the fall.

Unless the seven schools have an outsized desire to think so hard and be so puzzled that they want to suffer migraines, there is but one decision to be made. It’s the one decision that will put to rest the ideological shoving of ideas back and forth like so many chess pieces that go nowhere and win nothing.

“The CIF needs to announce a time and place for a state soccer tournament,” said Steve Larsen, a Sebastopol resident, a soccer official in the area for 30 years and assigner of game officials for the last 20. “Then it will be up to each school in the state to determine if they want to participate.”

Since Southern California teams play in the winter - owing to their temperate weather - the site would quite likely be there; Carson and the Home Depot Center come to mind. The date? Most logically that would be in March. Does a team want to play in the fall and then take off four months? Of course not. So the SCL or the Coastal Mountain Conference would move to winter, roll the dice, pray for good weather and no busted ankles in January and February, and go for the state.

Or not. Those two conferences stay in the fall, to play themselves, unwilling to place their kids on a trashed field in a downpour, well under the radar, knowing what they have become. As David Stirrat, the Petaluma principal put it: ”I don’t want this (SCL) to be an orphan conference.”

To this mix, as if we need any more ingredients in this stew, let’s add club soccer. You know club, don’t you? In soccer around here it’s the tail that wags the dog. Whether it says it openly or not, club boasts of being the best ticket to punch for a college scholarship. Put aside for the moment that most soccer college scholarships are not fully funded - those are reserved for the revenue-producers football and basketball. Go club if you want to play college soccer.

When the Atletico Santa Rosa Soccer Club heard of the Thursday SCL meeting at Piner High School, it sent out an email to all SCL coaches. “ … We are concerned that SCL will still play in the fall. As most clubs in this area we have players from all over Sonoma and Marin counties. This means some of our players will play Aug-Nov (fall) and other Nov-Feb (winter). We are concerned about how this will impact club teams.”

For the record, high school administrators could give two twits if Atletico won’t field its most talented teams; they represent education, not a feeder system for private enterprise. But players, believing playing for club is essential for their college future, might opt not to play for their high school but rather for their club. Especially if there’s a mortal danger that their club team would be diluted, ordinary even, and therefore, oh my goodness, not seen by eagle-eye college scouts who don’t do ordinary.

“This is the biggest issue I’ve been involved in since I became SCL commissioner 14 years ago,” David Ashworth said.

This issue - while discussed and dissected to the most minute of detail by intelligent and thoughtful principals and athletic directors - will end badly for some. Too much disparity exists between the schools. Weather, lights, neighborhoods, competition, school budgets and fields come into play. All are relevant and valid. All have strong points that beg agreement. All are influenced by the NBL.

“I felt the NBL made our decision a week ago,” Sonoma Valley vice principal Michael Waters said of the NBL deciding to move boys soccer to winter. “I was surprised at the vote today.”

The SCL didn’t go along to get along. There’s something admirable in that. The SCL, at least Thursday, is no one’s lap dog. But the day will come that ambitious boys will put club before their high school. The day will come that some boys programs will diminish in stature, if not dissolve. The day will come that small schools will feel the onus of being small.

Change, it is the nature of things. Change resolves differences, however unpleasant. Announcing the formation of a state soccer tournament will make that point sooner rather than later.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at

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