In what was probably the low point of the North Bay high school football season, the Healdsburg varsity team voted to quit playing and cancel the rest of the season after losing badly in its first two games.
What went into the decision was complicated, but much of it had to do with dwindling participation numbers. The varsity roster included 18 players at the beginning of the season, but six players quit after 41-0 and 61-0 losses.
Healdsburg’s predicament is part of a national trend that played out on local fields. While the North Bay football season featured championship moments and outstanding performances, it also included signs that football isn’t the sure thing it once was when it comes to schools fielding rosters that can remain competitive through a grueling season.
Elsie Allen has struggled for years with a small turnout of committed players and a revolving door of coaches. The Lobos forfeited two games this year when coaches decided they didn’t have enough players to field a varsity team safely.
El Molino and Sonoma Valley played their seasons with small rosters, 24 each, while Analy had 29 and Piner 31 players.
Those numbers can make it difficult to field a full team, particularly in a physical sport where injuries are sure to thin the ranks as the season drags on.
“I’m no longer going to be the coach, partly because of that,” said Sonoma Valley coach Bob Midgely. “It’s frustrating to put all that time and effort in and ask kids to put the time and effort in, and then only be able do what you can do with what you got.
“I keep saying, ‘I can do it, I can change it.’ I keep talking to kids to get them to play football, but …”
The junior varsity team in Sonoma had a few more kids, as many as 40 at one point, Midgely said, so next year may be better.
Meanwhile, both Healdsburg and Elsie Allen coaches have high hopes that their programs are on the upswing, despite challenging years.
Elsie only fielded a varsity squad and barely even that. With yet another coaching change at the last minute, the school was on the verge of canceling the year altogether or only having a JV team. In the end, new coach Dallas Packard had his team compete in seven of nine games, with two forfeits.
“We got them to trust us, which is a good thing. Then we got them to trust the process, in believing that we can put up points on the board. Next year, when we get enough kids with the incoming freshmen, we should be a lot bigger team,” he said.
With a team was heavy on freshmen and sophomores, Packard hopes to build on their experience next year.
“We’ll actually have a full summer with the kids,” he said. “We’ll have workouts and actually have a summer program. That will be very helpful for us.”
Packard was hired just a few weeks before the first game, barely giving him enough time to learn the kids’ names, let alone their abilities.
“I think next year will definitely be a better team, not the Elsie Allen we’ve seen,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I knew it was the right place for me to go and that I could change this program into the program I wanted it to be. The kids believe in it.”