Part-time Cougars to become full-time Titans

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Trystan Brown likes to swim. He has a friend who loves basketball. Both considered attending Tech High School in Rohnert Park, perhaps lured by the school’s collegiate setting or its renowned robotics program.

But different kids apply different formulas to their decisions. Brown is currently a freshman at Tech. His friend opted for larger Rancho Cotate, where he had a chance to play basketball for the Cougars.

Starting next fall, Rohnert Park students won’t have to choose between sports and robotics. Tech High plans to field its own sports teams for the first time in its 13-year history.

“I think it’s important for the school,” Brown said. “I’ll still be junior varsity next year. I follow Rancho swimming, and if it’s anything like that, there will be varsity and junior varsity. It will be easier for younger students to get to know some of the older students.”

The Titans have been accepted by the North Coast Section and will join the NCL II, part of the Coastal Mountain Conference, where they will face the likes of St. Vincent de Paul, Rincon Valley Christian and Roseland University Prep. Tech High plans to compete in a robust array of sports that includes boys and girls cross country, soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming, and track and field, boys wrestling and golf, and girls softball.

There is a lot to be sorted out along the way.

Tech High does not currently have an athletic director, and it’s unclear whether the school will go off campus for coaches or use existing faculty to coach teams. Also to be determined: where the Titans will play. Administrators are currently looking into the possibility of using SSU facilities, including fields and gyms, though nothing has been settled.

Those decisions must wait. More immediate on the docket is a Saturday fundraiser, the 5K Race for Success on the Sonoma State campus, that will partially benefit Tech High’s athletic programs.

In its earlier years, Tech had a multi-school agreement that allowed its students to play sports at Rancho Cotate. But it worked against the larger school. Rancho was forced to include Tech High in the enrollment numbers that determined section playoffs, bumping the Cougars into Division 1 — which included Bay Area powers like De La Salle.

So beginning in 2007-08, Rancho Cotate closed its rosters to incoming Tech High freshmen. (Existing students were grandfathered in.) Since then, Tech students have taken PE courses and played intramural sports, but have effectively been denied the opportunity to play after-school athletics.

Tech High’s enrollment has been in gradual decline — it’s now at 209, slightly larger than Point Arena and slightly smaller than Sonoma Academy — and Dr. Robert Haley, interim superintendent of Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District, was convinced that the absence of prep sports was driving some students to other schools.

“He suspected, as did I, that a lot of kids were making choices based on the fact that there was or was not athletics,” Tech High principal Bruce Mims said. “A student’s primary interest should be academic, but that student should also be offered a well-rounded high school experience.”

The school had been looking for ways to reincorporate sports for several years. And those efforts accelerated last July when Mims was hired. He came directly from Westchester High in Los Angeles, a large school known for its prowess in basketball, baseball and volleyball.

Mims and his staff surveyed students, talked to them anecdotally and collaborated with parents to gather opinion on the subject.

“We found out there was overwhelming interest in playing sports here,” Mims said. “And what was also interesting, we found out there was overwhelming interest throughout the community to pursue athletics as an independent school.”

In other words, no more part-time Cougars. Tech High kids would now be Titans to the core.

“A school’s individual identity is extremely important,” Mims said. “If I had to make a conjecture, I think my kids would rather walk out on the court in their own school’s jersey than somebody else’s.”

And the Titans might not be the only new team in Rohnert Park next year. Credo High, a Waldorf-based charter school practically next door to Rancho Cotate, has already been accepted by the NCS. Credo has only 42 freshmen in this, its inaugural year. But it expects to welcome an incoming class of 60 to 90 next year, and may begin playing soccer and basketball as soon as 2012-13.

You can reach Staff Writer
Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.