I had no idea what to expect when I stepped foot onto the campus at Lowell High School – a short jaunt away across Lake Merced to the site of this year’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.
I drove past the front of the school. Once. Twice. Why not, another time. My destination was the football field, home to my first assignment as a freelancer for the Marin Independent Journal covering the season opener between Terra Linda of San Rafael and Lowell. But I didn’t know where the field was.
I peered through the windows of my car, confused. This is exactly why I chose to arrive early – in case I had no idea where I was. It didn’t occur to me that the kids were probably wondering who the weird guy with the befuddled look on his face was, continually driving past them back and forth in front of the school.
I finally parked my car and decided to hitch it. I asked a guy in front of the school, who looked like he worked there, where the field was.
He pointed me in the direction through a small gate on the side of school – an area that did not seem very accessible, especially to a football field.
“Are you with Terra Linda?” he asked.
“No, just reporting on the game for the paper in Marin,” I said.
The older gentleman with graying hair and “SECURITY” stitched to the back of his black polo, then immediately raised his arms like he was attempting to fly.
“Well, I hope the home team wins!” he said, as he kept flapping his arms before he returned to picking up the orange cones in front of the school.
I stood there. Confused. I walked through the gates to the other side of the school. Painted on the back side of the school was a huge cardinal, depicting Lowell’s mascot in red. “Home of the Cardinals” stood out and it finally occurred to me why the man was flapping his arms.
He was trying to be a cardinal. Ah, OK.
After walking past the tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts, it sure didn’t feel like a football season opener was kicking off in about half-hour. There were no signs, no excitement, no rally whatsoever. A teacher walked by on the way to her car, looking exciting to go home.
I arrived to the gate, not knowing whether I had to pay to get in or not. Since no one was there, I walked in and looked around. I saw Lowell’s football team on the field, going through warm-ups like it was a practice. But where was everyone else? Did I get the day wrong? I glanced at my phone and it did say Friday at 3 p.m.
No one was in the stands. It was eerie in some ways.
I couldn’t help but compare it to my time as a sports editor at Canby and Wilsonville in Oregon, and seeing kids and parents tailgating in the parking lot. You knew a special event was upcoming, a place where an entire community was uniting.
Not here I guess.
The home stands were completely void of a ravenous student section. Parents were non-existent as they were probably at work. I turned to the visitor’s side. Not that much different.
Again I kept thinking to myself, where was I?
This is San Francisco, right? One of the largest major cities in the United States. But yet, I felt like I was plopped into a secluded stadium where the teams and referees were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. I immediately tweeted some pictures of what I saw.
Loved the response from Kris Henry of the Medford Mail Tribune:
I knew, however, that I couldn’t just sit there stunned. I had work to do.
My first order of business was tracking down a roster for Terra Linda, since that was the team I had to slant my article on. I contacted the high school about getting a roster a few days prior, but received no response. I figured, someone at this game had to know who these players were.
I approached who appeared to be a Terra Linda administrator – later I found out would be athletic director Steve Farbstein – and asked him if he had a roster and would know anyone with one.
But he did point me in the direction of TL coach Damon Keeve on the sidelines, a big burly man who has been a long-time coach in the area. Steve tipped me that he saw Keeve scribble down names on a piece of paper earlier in the day, but that was about it.
Great, I thought. This was off to a good start.
I walked down to the field and waited for Keeve to finish his conversation with the referee. While waiting, I bumped into Jeremy Balan, editor and founder of SanFranPreps.com who I blogged about earlier and wrote a must-read piece on the lack of Friday night football tradition in the City. Jeremy then approached Keeve for a roster, but was turned away and told to ask after the game for names if we needed. Tremendous.
Fifteen minutes before game time for my first assignment with a daily and I don’t even have names for the team I’m covering. I glanced around the stadium again to take in the atmosphere and noticed, hey at least it wasn’t a graveyard anymore. A few parents trickled in. A couple students made their way onto the home side of the stands. Lowell’s cheerleaders started to drive up some school spirit from the “crowd.”
It was starting to look like people actually cared about the outcome of this contest. Still, it wasn’t what I was used to. No fight songs. No high school band. Not even concessions. It was as unceremonious of a kick-off I’ve seen to a football season.
The scoreboard, which was turned on prior to kick-off, naturally turned off by the time the game began. I was later told this was one of the nicer high schools in San Francisco. Academically, Lowell ranks among the highest in the City. Students have to apply in order to attend, much like a university.
The scoreboard finally clicked back on with 55 seconds left in the first half. The game went on smoothly without a hitch. It took awhile to get back into the flow of keeping football stats again, but by the end of the first quarter, I was in the groove.
After doing this for seven years, covering everything from Class 6A football with Canby to Class 1A football at Country Christian in Oregon, it was like a shooter’s touch. You may not pick up a basketball for months or years, but any real shooter will tell you they never lose their touch.
I’ll give a huge shoutout to Steve Farbstein, the Terra Linda AD, who was my personal media relations guru, giving me every name of any player I needed until the final horn even when the reserves were in. Terra Linda was up 32-8 late. I still needed names to fill up my box score and thankfully, Steve was there. He later said if I came to their home opener next week, they would have rosters and a program available. Sweet.
I remembered the experiences I’ve had covering high school football at Canby and Wilsonville — the glitz and the glamour of a well put-on community event. Television crews, The Oregonian, various other newspaper, radio and media outlets were always present. They are two outstanding high schools that run extremely well athletic programs. It’s a tradition. It’s everything you expect high school football to be.
It may not be Texas, Florida or southern California, but people in Oregon treat high school football like their own pro sports teams. It’s what they’ve got. It’s who they represent, especially in the smaller towns.
They are proud of the kids who represent them. Coaches are regarded as legends in the game for their success in their communities. The big-time talent in Oregon may not compare to other areas, but the passion is unmatched.
I told a few people at the game where I came from. I had to tell about Wilsonville’s upcoming season and how the booster club was selling season tickets and priority seating with parking privileges this year.
It was met with a few stunned looks.
The game finally ended. I conducted my on-field interviews with a couple of Terra Linda’s players – running back Austin Koblick and quarterback Harry Taylor.
During the interview with Taylor, the team suddenly decided to form a circle around us. I wondered what exactly was happening. Keeve scolded his quarterback, telling him to end the interview, put the reporter (me) in his backpocket and get out of his circle.
Welcome to San Francisco, I thought to myself.
I finished my interview with Taylor, walked up to Keeve and apologized, and he graciously accepted. Phew. I walked back to my car and concluded this was definitely not Oregon.
The thought didn’t last long and by then, a deadline had to be met, but something I’ll always remember.
Link to game story: http://www.marinij.com/prepsports/ci_21396864/prep-football-terra-linda-rolls-past-lowell-opener?source=rss
Video of the second-half kick-off, experience the atmosphere of San Francisco high school football: