It was supposed to be an unremarkable test run. A routine maintenance check.
So why did upwards of 25 Piner athletes show up and break into cheer last June?
Because on that evening, the routine maintenance check was to see tall light towers above Jim Underhill Stadium at Piner High School set the field aglow. The overhead glow of those LED lights were years in the making. So when dusk turned to night and those athletes turned out to see light take over their field, there was dancing done.
“They started hooting and hollering,” Piner football coach Tom Harris said. “They were pretty excited.”
On Friday, Piner’s newest addition makes its debut as the Prospectors host Novato at 7 p.m. Not 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon like every season in recent memory, but 7 p.m. Friday.
“It means the world to me,” senior running back Nick Gonzalez said.
Since his freshman year, Gonzalez and other Prospectors have heard that lights were in the works, that the crab feeds were bringing in money, that it would finally happen for Piner. But Gonzalez, like those in classes before his, was always left wanting.
“It’s never been done before,” junior quarterback Yonaton Isack said. “I’m glad to be a part of this team.”
This moment was a long time in the making. Two years after voters approved $175 million in infrastructure spending on the district’s middle and high school campuses, the Santa Rosa school board in 2016 set aside approximately $2 million for the Piner lights project. It was unprecedented. Lights at all of other the campuses — Elsie Allen in 2001, Santa Rosa in 2005, Montgomery in 2006 and Maria Carrillo in 2008 — were paid for by school fundraising or with the promise of repayment to the district.
But Piner’s fundraising struggled. In 2017-18, 59 percent of Piner’s students qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program. The high school average across the district is 47 percent.
In this economy, it wasn’t going to happen for the Prospectors without help.
“It was put out there that it had to be done with private funds, which made it impossible for Piner to do,” said Jim Lanz, a 1976 Piner alum who for years has helped run crab feeds and other fundraisers to get this done.
Their work paid for the $63,000 environmental report, but as the cost of the lights kept creeping higher, the plausibility of paying for them one fundraiser at a time grew increasingly slim.
So after years of knocking on doors to convince neighbors of the benefits of the project, of serving group dinners and holding silent auctions, you will likely forgive Piner boosters for giving a resounding huzzah when the school board in September 2016 allocated $2 million in voter-approved bond funds for the lights.
But you will also likely forgive them that no one held their breath for when the lights would actually be installed and turned on. It’s been that kind of road for these folks.
“It was, ‘They are going to get lights this year’ and ‘They are going to get lights this year’ and ‘They are going to get lights this year,’” Harris said. “And it never happened.”