Benefield: Return to Upper Lake roots perfect fit for Annie Pivniska-Petrie
In early July, Annie Pivniska-Petrie walked into the gym at Upper Lake High School, where volleyball players were working out.
She was introduced as the school’s new principal. Mention was also made that she was an Upper Lake grad herself and also a former student-athlete for the Cougars.
“It was the most beautiful thing. One of the girls raised her hand and said, ‘Did you guys put any pennants on the wall?’ The coach and the assistant coach just kind of chuckled,” she said.
Because Petrie, who was Annie Pivniska in 1991-94 as a Cougar, nearly wallpapered the Upper Lake gym with pennants. And she, along with her fellow four-sport standouts Laura Wilder and Jen Bryant, had their basketball numbers retired in 2008. Their jerseys now hang in the same gym where a young volleyballer innocently asked if Petrie had brought home any titles for the Cougars.
Petrie, along with Wilder and Bryant, was a starter from the moment she stepped onto campus. In those four years, the Cougars went 106-16, won three North Central I League titles while winning 36 straight league games, won three North Coast Section championships and appeared in two NorCal finals.
“I haven’t seen anything close to that,” said Brian Sumpter, longtime sports editor at the Lake County Record-Bee, said of that team’s run of dominance. “Everything is measured by that team.”
Petrie’s return to Upper Lake is a homecoming. Her family is still here. She has spent holidays here for years. And yes, her jersey hangs in the gym.
“I always knew I wanted to come back home,” she said. “But similar to every position I have ever taken … it was the right opportunity and the right time and the stars aligned for me. I was completely honored to be hired.”
The move comes after a tumultuous departure from her last post as principal at Napa High School. Petrie had been at Napa High since 2004, first as dean of student activities, then as an award-winning assistant principal and then three-plus years as principal before being removed mid-year in 2018 in the wake of a hazing scandal with the football team and the school district’s decision to rename the school mascot from Indians to Grizzlies.
Teachers rallied for weeks in protest of Petrie’s mid-year removal and her being reassigned to the district office. In 2012, Petrie had won administrator of the year from the Association of California School District Administrators in her region.
As a principal “you must take the slings and arrows but always hold true and fast to what’s best for the students,” she said. “When you choose to be in a leadership role, whether it’s point guard or setter or coach, it’s never about you, it’s about how to make a difference.”
And less than a year later, she has made her return to Upper Lake High.
“Any time I have had to pivot in my life … it gives you an opportunity to reflect and reset,” she said. “I had to pivot and I’m very happy with where I’m going.”
Sumpter covered Petrie and her teammates throughout their high school careers. Petrie and gang were standouts in other sports — volleyball, track and softball — but it was basketball where they ushered in a period of utter dominance that stretched beyond Lake County and into regional and NorCal tournaments.