Benefield: Healdsburg's football timeout a painful pause
HEALDSBURG — Four years ago, Jackson Hernandez considered going to high school somewhere else. The Healdsburg High School senior has played football since he was 7. He understood that unlike days of old, football isn’t king on the Prince Avenue campus anymore.
But Hernandez’s dad played for the Hounds. So did his uncle. As did his grandfather. As a kid, he would show up to Hounds’ practices just to watch them play.
“It was actually a really big thing,” he said. “I knew Healdsburg wasn’t the best team around, but I still wanted to go because of all the previous generations.”
But on Monday afternoon Hernandez saw his football career come to an abrupt end. Fresh on the heels of two losses in which Healdsburg was outscored 102-0, a team meeting was held and players voted to end the season right then and there.
It is a decision that has sparked confusion, disappointment and — already — regret.
Of the 13 kids on the roster who participated in the vote, two were at least temporarily academically ineligible, according to Healdsburg High athletic director and head coach Dave Stine. They had just enough bodies to field a team.
In an interview at Healdsburg School District offices Friday, Stine said this was not a knee-jerk reaction to losing. The vote was a long time in the making. He said last spring he had 42 athletes who expressed interest in coming out for the team. Uniforms were ordered, numbers were assigned.
But come summer, the turnout at workouts was scant. Players who showed up felt it.
“People complained about commitment,” Hernandez said.
Stine said there was little he could do under current North Coast Section rules to require that guys show up. He could not make workouts mandatory.
“We did everything we could as a coaching staff to motivate and try to encourage kids to play,” he said. “That’s what’s so frustrating. I’ll be damned if I would go into a room and say, ‘We’re not going to play the rest of the season,’ after all the work I did.”
Senior Andy Castro was a guy who missed a lot of summer workouts.
“To be honest, I did not do that,” he said of regular attendance. “I did not do my part in the summer. I worked a full-time job in the summer, but I went when I could.”
Castro is one of the players who voted to shut the season down. He says now that his vote in that moment does not fit with how he approached the game.
When the roster started to shrink, Castro said he was a guy who would play both ways, play every down.
“I’m the type of person, I’ll play the game, I’ll play the rest of the game,” he said. “But with everybody else not being committed, it makes me not committed.”
Castro said Stine could see the discontent building. It’s not hard to notice when the team has to cancel its first scrimmage because of lack of numbers and then gets beaten 41-0 and 61-0.
“He would say, ‘Look, we may have low numbers, but I have seen it in the past that teams with low numbers can do it. Look at small schools — El Molino, Elsie Allen, they can do it,’” Castro said.