Benefield: With changed minds and cooler heads, Healdsburg soccer game goes on as planned
HEALDSBURG — In the end, it was just about soccer. But in the 24 hours leading up to Healdsburg High School’s 2-0 win over visiting Rancho Cotate in North Bay League-Oak Division boys soccer, the talk was about everything but soccer.
It was about parents getting out of control, it was about student safety, it was about tempers flying despite the fact that we are talking about 16-year-olds playing high school soccer.
Let’s go back: On Tuesday, Healdsburg hosted Elsie Allen in a game that ended in more than a 2-2 tie. It ended with players jawing with each other, which led to benches clearing, which led to stands emptying as adults faced off in the middle of the field.
Healdsburg principal Bill Halliday wasn’t at the field Tuesday night, but he reviewed the tape. In response, he made a decision to close Thursday’s game with Rancho — senior night for the ’Hounds — to any fans.
That didn’t sit well.
Parents were upset. Players refused to play. The game — crucial to two playoff-caliber teams vying for second place in the NBL-Oak — was in jeopardy of not being played.
So Halliday reconsidered.
“What turned me was (Wednesday) night, driving home, and realizing that we are probably not going to have a game that is very important to both schools,” he said.
“What can I do to get this done and ensure student safety?” he said.
He met with players. He met with parents — again.
“What I got was clear assurances” from parents who vowed to monitor the stands, he said.
But Halliday also brought in backup.
Two uniformed security guards roamed the sideline Thursday night. A surfeit of Healdsburg school staff were at the field. And a fourth referee was planted firmly behind the ’Hounds’ bench and in front of their packed stands. Halliday even called Healdsburg Police to let them know the backstory of what was going down Thursday — just in case.
But in the end, happily, it was just 80 minutes of soccer. The only drama was on the field.
Still, it was a long haul for many of the ’Hounds, who went through an emotional wringer leading up to their senior night.
“A lot of emotions were happening. I was very emotional throughout the past 24 hours. But it took a lot of determination in terms of talking to the people that I needed to talk to, the representatives, and making sure that we could have this game possible no matter what the circumstances were. If that required a lot of security, that’s what it needed,” Healdsburg’s senior goalkeeper Orion Von Rohr said.
“Last night, I didn’t think this was going to happen,” he said.
For senior Eric Guzman, it was clear there had been issues with people in the stands. Having family members file onto the field to get in the face of fans from the other team is not normal. But it wasn’t everyone in the stands who was up to no good, and that’s where he had trouble with the plan to bar all spectators.
“I felt like it wasn’t fair to exclude everyone out when it was mainly one or two people,” he said.