This fall’s Homecoming soccer game under the lights may have been Country Day’s last.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has ruled that the boys’ and girls’ soccer seasons will be in winter, effective beginning next year. In the past, the boys played in fall, and the girls in spring.
“The main reason is that the CIF wants to create a state championship,” athletic director Matt Vargo said.
All teams in Southern California and half of the teams in the Bay Area play in winter, according to Vargo, so for a state championship, the rest of California needed to follow suit.
Why did Northern California have to make the switch?
Vargo said he believes it’s because more schools would have been affected had the decision led to Southern California and Bay Area schools switching their soccer seasons to line up with Northern California, and because the weather does not bother those areas as much.
“Those are all legitimate reasons,” he said.
However, Vargo opposes this change, which he said had been talked about for several years before it was officially adopted in April.
“I was always against it,” he said. “I did everything I could to try to garner enough votes to shoot it down.” He said he talked to other athletic directors and administrators and attended meetings and conferences.
This was the closest vote that the San Joaquin section has had on an issue, Vargo said: 16 in favor, 12 opposed.
While this change unifies schools throughout the state, it’s causing multiple problems for SCDS and other small schools specifically, as Vargo had predicted.
First, the talent pool will now be divided between basketball and soccer.
Vargo said there is no way for athletes who’ve typically played both sports to do so.
“They’re going to have to choose one,” he said.
That’s the case for sophomore Jayce McCain, who currently starts for both the soccer and varsity basketball teams. McCain said he will continue playing basketball, but not soccer.
“Soccer is my second favorite sport, and now I don’t get to play it,” he said.
On the other hand, junior Emil Erickson, who played basketball, will give it up this year and next, instead focusing on soccer.
And junior Aidan Cunningham has not decided which sport he will choose.
“Honestly, I don’t know yet,” he said.
“I love playing soccer. (It’s) one of my favorite sports. (But) even though I’m not that good, I’ve put more time into playing basketball.”
Vargo said he sees no positives to players having to choose a sport.
But varsity basketball coach David Ancrum disagrees with Vargo.
While he admits that it’s tough for athletes to choose which sport to pursue, Ancrum said that if an athlete is going to be serious about a sport, he or she will have to choose anyway.
Ancrum thinks this switch will be harder on the soccer team.
Along with McCain, sophomore B.J. Askew and junior Adam Dean said they will also choose basketball over soccer next year.
Dean agrees with Ancrum.
“I feel like it’s going to hurt the soccer team a lot by losing Jayce and B.J. because they’re (two) of the top players,” he said.
In fact, Askew and McCain are big contributors to both teams.
As a starter on the basketball team, Askew averaged 16.4 points, 4.6 assists and 4.3 steals per game. This soccer season he made 24 goals and 10 assists.
McCain averaged 15.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per basketball game. And this season in soccer he had seven goals and four assists.
Vargo knows the soccer team is losing “valuable” players, but he said he also thinks the basketball team will lose some depth.
Although, according to Vargo, there are more girls signing up for basketball than in the past 12 years, the girls’ teams will suffer as well.
The basketball team will lose junior Natalie Brown, who currently plays varsity basketball and soccer.
She will choose soccer over basketball, she said, as she’s been playing soccer for a lot longer.
SCDS athletes have usually been able to play two sports in one season, but with this recent switch, their opportunities are decreasing.
Take Erickson, who managed to play baseball and tennis last spring.
But basketball and soccer aren’t compatible sports, like soccer and cross country (dual athletes get training in soccer practice and compete on the weekends) or a spring sport paired with golf, Vargo said.
“If you’re playing both sports, the time commitment is just too big,” Vargo said.
“Whereas (with) something like cross country and soccer, there’s a natural crossover in skill sets.”
In addition, the soccer and volleyball teams often have similar game schedules and opponents, so the absence of the boys’ soccer team in fall could drive down the number of fans cheering on the Cavs.
“I think it’s a bummer because I think both sports help each other in terms of attendance,” Vargo said.
Daylight and weather pose other problems. Earlier sunsets mean earlier dismissals, which mean less time spent in class.
In addition, it will be much colder during the winter months.
“I’ve played in some soccer games when it’s freezing, and it’s not fun,” said soccer player junior Elizabeth Brownridge.
“It’s fun to play in the rain sometimes, but the game totally changes because the ball moves quicker,” Brownridge said.
Fans will have to endure the cold as well. “It’s a lot different sitting out in the weather at 8 p.m. in January than it is in October,” Vargo said.
But Erickson sees a bright side to the winter season. “We won’t have to deal with super-hot temperatures,” he said.
Brown brought up another point: the condition of the fields in the winter.
“It’s definitely going to be difficult with the game situations if it’s raining,” she said.
“The field is going to get really messed up. It’s not turf. If it’s wet and you have people playing on it with cleats, it’s just going to tear up the field.”
And of course, winter weather is more severe in Northern California. Vargo said he thinks a mild 2014 winter influenced the vote.
For some schools with up to six teams (freshman, JV and varsity for both girls and boys), not having enough field space poses a problem, but not for SCDS, Vargo said.
The teams will simply share the field. “We’ve managed to do it here even with girls’ soccer, two middle-school teams and a lacrosse team,” Vargo said.
And at some other schools, this change in seasons is threatening the soccer programs altogether.
Some are dropping the sport as they support basketball more than soccer, according to Vargo.
“We have enough soccer players and basketball players to carry both programs,” he said.
But that’s not the case for schools such as Faith Christian, which is backing basketball, Vargo said.
Vargo did point out that this change may be beneficial for female athletes.
“The one positive is that girls are going to have more options to participate in athletics in the spring,” he said. Spring sports include tennis, golf, track and field, swimming and possibly softball.
Brown said she hasn’t played any of the sports available for girls in the spring except for track and field in middle school. She said she’d maybe try tennis. But she said she’s still disappointed that soccer won’t be in the spring, because she likes having more than just homework to do after school.
Brownridge, too, said she’d try tennis, but was disappointed by the switch.
“I liked having soccer in the spring,” she said, because it “spread out all the sports I wanted to do.”
As for fall? That traditional under-the-lights game and pep rally?
“(Volleyball’s) all we got,” Vargo said.
But there’s a new opportunity surfacing.
Now Vargo is looking into flag football, which would be a club sport as it isn’t a CIF sport.
The soccer season switch prompted this new interest.
“It wasn’t on the radar,” he said, “(but) now it seems like there’s a huge void in the fall, especially for male athletes.”
In fact, Vargo was recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about the possibility of flag football, although the emphasis of the story was more on the safety of tackle football.
—By Zoë Bowlus