Benefield: Sonoma Academy’s girls soccer team offers gesture of goodwill
No coach in his right mind would do it.
You play all season long not only for league bragging rights but also to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs.
You fight and claw and grind for it. You don’t give it away.
Unless you are Sonoma Academy. Unless your coach is Chris Ziemer.
Ziemer gave it away for Wednesday night’s girls soccer game between top seed Sonoma Academy and fourth seed Middletown in a Division 3 semifinal showdown.
Ziemer was in Middletown Saturday night to scout the game between Middletown and visiting Technology High. Makes sense, his team would play the winner Wednesday night.
For the first time since the Valley fire killed four people and destroyed 1,280 homes in Middletown and the surrounding communities, Ziemer saw what the area has been through.
“It hit me when I was in their community a little bit differently than I expected,” he said.
The effect was immediate.
“They had players on their team that lost their home and having me thinking about home-field advantage just didn’t seem right,” he said.
Six players on the soccer team lost their homes.
So, still sitting in the stands watching Middletown beat Tech 6-0, Ziemer had a thought that no clear-thinking coach would: He’d volunteer his team to hit the road instead of Middletown. He’d bring his squad the windy, hour-long drive across the county line and play on a narrow football field with a heck of a crown so that Middletown families would not have to travel, so that Middletown boosters could cheer on their team one last time this season — at home.
He reached his assistant principal. He texted his captains. All agreed: Sonoma Academy would bring the game to Middletown.
“I can’t look at it from a coaching perspective and have it make sense,” he said. “As a coach and a competitor, you do everything you can to gain advantages, not give them up.”
“It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. There are a lot of factors at stake,” he said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Ziemer knew it would give the Coyotes — who practice and play on a home field of synthetic turf — a tougher go of it on Middletown’s field. He knew that some parents might grumble about making the drive. He knew his seniors might be peeved to lose out on their last chance to play at home wearing their high school jersey.
Except that nobody said boo. He didn’t hear a word of complaint.
“It’s bittersweet knowing I won’t play a home game,” said Sonoma Academy’s career goals leader and two-time defending All-Empire Small Schools player of the Year Chloe Colbert. “But I love that my coach, Chris, did this. I’m proud of him for making this decision.”
Middletown officials were dumbstruck.
“He’s putting his girls at a huge disadvantage by doing this for the sportsmanship piece of it. I can’t believe what he’s telling me,” said Middletown Principal Bill Roderick.
Ziemer pitched Roderick on the plan right there at the game Saturday night. By the time the final whistle blew, the plan was set and Ziemer was gone. He didn’t stick around to hear the fans cheer the news or see the Middletown players stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the game when the public address announcer told the crowd they’d have one more shot at seeing the Mustangs play at home.