Torrential rain, even worse field conditions, less class time, and delays or cancellations of games: these are some of the consequences of the soccer season change that was implemented this year, which moved boys’ and girls’ soccer from fall and spring respectively to winter.
Among the reasons for the change were to even out the three seasons and to get a foundation for a statewide soccer championship in the future, according to Will DeBoard, director of communications for the Sac-Joaquin Section.
SCDS, which is a part of the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League (SMAL) of the Sac-Joaquin Section, voted against the change along with the rest of the league. However, the change was ultimately implemented by a close margin.
According to athletic director Matt Vargo, it was the closest vote in section history.
“It was not an overwhelming yes,” Vargo said. “Only one small school league (out of seven) voted for it.”
The change in season affects small schools more than big ones because larger schools have a larger talent pool, so it’s easier to fill the teams.
This newfound lack of players alone changed the winter sports for many schools in the league. Off the top of his head, Vargo named six schools that have dropped one or both of their soccer teams just in the northern part of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
But soccer wasn’t the only sport that suffered losses.
“On the other side, a lot of schools lost JV basketball,” Vargo said. “We don’t have a JV boys’ team this year, and we’re just one of many small schools that were affected.”
Junior Theo Kaufman pointed out that moving soccer to the winter forced players to choose between soccer and basketball.
“We lost about one-third of our league games, and the girls lost a game against Victory Christian School because they dropped their girls’ soccer program,” Vargo said.
Another detrimental side effect was the weather.
California had its wettest January ever recorded – 9.92 inches of rain, which is about two-and-a-half times more than the average.
“The weather is poor, field conditions are slippery and uneven, and sometimes the wind can change the direction of the ball in flight,” senior Christian Van Vleck said.
However, DeBoard said that he thinks it was simply “a bad coincidence” that the year we moved also happened to be unusually wet.
But despite that, the past few years have been unusually dry. For example, we had no rainfall in January 2015. And Vargo thinks that weather influenced the change.
“The last two years have been droughts, so there hadn’t been much rain when the vote came,” Vargo said.
Due to the poor conditions, four games were cancelled for both boys and girls and three total had to be rescheduled.
“The weather affected our game,” sophomore Lia Kaufman said. “We were so used to having better fields that when we played on soggy ones it was way worse.”
And teams also have lost practice time.
“For schools without lights (like SCDS), practices are much shorter,” Vargo said.
Senior Natalie Brown said that sometimes practice would get moved into the weight room if it was raining too heavily.
“There’s really only so much you can do in a tiny weight room for practice,” she said.
The weather has also affected student health.
“With the weather and in the elements, it’s easier to get sick,” Vargo said.
On top of the bad weather, students were dismissed from class earlier due to the earlier sunsets, which also made it harder for parents and other students to watch games.
“I feel like I missed a lot of important stuff, and it’s really hard to catch up sometimes,” sophomore Abby LaComb said. “I missed a lot of days before tests and some labs in chem.”
To combat the earlier sunsets, schools can rent lights for their practices and games. But lights are also costly.
According to Vargo, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy spends about $400 per game to provide referees, a turf field and lights.
“(Western Sierra) doesn’t even practice at the turf field,” Vargo said. “They haven’t had a practice since December because their regular field is in such bad condition.”
Vargo said he sees only one benefit in the season change.
“This year, we had enough girls to create a softball program in the spring,” Vargo said. “That’s it.”
But DeBoard sees other positive effects of the change, and many affect more than just the small schools.
DeBoard said that the main reason for the change was that the fall and spring sports calendars are both very crowded. However, in winter, the only sports were basketball and wrestling.
“Moving the boys and girls evened out the three seasons,” DeBoard said.
Furthermore, he said that all of the other sections in California play in the winter, even the ones north of us that have even worse weather.
“This means that there is a potential push for a state championship,” DeBoard said.
“A lot of schools have turf fields and strong teams, so they know that they could play in a championship title. Some are very excited about it.”
Senior Emil Erickson said that he thinks that the change is worth it for the championship despite the other disadvantages.
There was no state championship for soccer this year, but according to Vargo a championship for NorCal will probably be implemented next year with a statewide championship the following year.
So will the season ever revert back to what it once was? DeBoard said that it won’t happen for at least another year, and nothing will be voted on regarding this issue until October at the minimum.
“I know some schools will bring the vote to bring soccer back to its original season, and it will be voted on again,” he said. “It’s up to a majority of schools to decide.”
And our school may be one of those to propose changing back.
“Our league voted to make a motion to vote on it again if another league doesn’t do so,” Vargo said.
But he said there’s a rumor circulating that the Delta League, which includes Jesuit and St. Francis, is going to make a motion to vote again.
Even so, it’s no easy process.
“First they’d have to make a motion,” Vargo said. “Then there’d have to be discussion and public input.
“It will probably be about two years before we implement it.”
—By Quin LaComb