League board postpones shift of soccer seasons

Matthew Ross

The controversial shift of both boys and girls’ soccer seasons to the winter was pushed back until the 2015-2016 school year, following a recent decision by the MCAL Board of Managers.

Board members decided to delay the season change, which was scheduled to be implemented next year, to address concerns that more time was needed to assure a smooth transition to one integrated season of soccer.

Currently, boys’ soccer is played in the fall and girls’ in the spring, but the board has debated for years whether to shift both to the winter. The change was finally approved this past March, with the option to be implemented as early as the 2014-2015 season.

Although the delay is intended to enhance the success of the shift, MCAL coaches, who are unanimously opposed to the decision, say they hope that the delay signals second thoughts about the benefits of such a change.

Tam District Athletic Coordinator Sue Chelini acknowledged the complicated nature of the issue, pointing to the nearly 50  “pros and cons” of the proposed season change cited in the Tam District Athletic Council’s November 2012 meeting notes.

One of the “pros” was the fact that the majority of California high school soccer competition takes place in the fall or winter. Thus, the shift would allow the MCAL girls’ champion to participate in more extensive post-season competition. Also, girls would be free to play both soccer and lacrosse, two popular sports which tend to attract the same athletes. Currently, both sports are played in the spring, precluding girls from playing both.

Redwood Athletic Director Jessica Peisch said she believes that the change can work, and that the additional year of preparation will make a difference.

“We’re just trying to finalize a concrete plan,” she said, confirming that the recent vote did not indicate a desire to maintain the current schedule, but rather concern for the successful implementation of the season adjustment.

The extra year will allow the league to take advantage of upcoming field construction. By 2015, there will be two more turf fields at MCAL schools, one at Redwood and one at San Rafael, and perhaps one more lighted field, at Marin Catholic.

Veteran MCAL coaches, on the other hand, have unanimously opposed this move in the past decade for a variety of reasons, perhaps none more important than the challenge of trying to schedule practices and games for two varsity and two junior-varsity teams each afternoon on a daily basis.

In addition, the lack of daylight in the winter would force games to start at 3:30 p.m. at the latest, which would require players to be dismissed from school early. As a consequence, one of the two weekly games would be scheduled for Saturday, impacting the lives of both students and their families.

Further, many MCAL coaches who are able to work with both boys’ and girls’ teams would no longer be able to do so.

“The issue has come up many times in the last ten years,” said Tom Ryan, long-time head coach of both the Branson boys’ and girls’ teams. “Every time we have a vote of the coaches, we have unanimously voted against it.” Ryan supports the idea in theory, but remains apprehensive given the logistics of managing four teams at once in the winter, due to the lack of fields, especially ones with lights. “Ultimately, our biggest concern is student athlete safety,” he said.

First-year Redwood boys’ coach Gabe Zieff echoed Ryan’s concerns, adding that he feared that the entire JV program could be compromised, if not jeopardized, because of the strain on the number of available coaches and facilities.

Redwood athletes expressed mixed feelings about the change, but the change seemingly benefits girls more than boys.

Because the current seasons of girls’ soccer and lacrosse coincide, some girls are faced with the tough decision to choose one of the two sports, a dilemma that would be eliminated come the 2015-2016 school year.

“We would get a bigger turnout for tryouts,” said Kendra Loo, a sophomore lacrosse player. In fact, Loo played both soccer and lacrosse coming into high school, but due to the conflict was forced to choose the latter.

Sophomore Isaac Perper, a varsity soccer player, is troubled by the fact that the change to winter could impact the quality of practices. “Without enough light, the practices would be shorter and rushed,” he said. He also expressed concern regarding the scheduling constraints of four teams each playing two games per week.

“The schools are not ready to make the switch,” said Mike Crivello, coach of both the boys’ and girls’ teams at Terra Linda.

MCAL officials hope the additional year will help answer at least some of the logistical concerns.