By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
This should be a happy time for the Santa Rosa High School badminton team, which recently began its North Bay League title defense. But a clash with the SRHS administration has the Panthers crying “fault.”
At the core of the complaint, several prospective 2015 badminton players — Santa Rosa High principal Brad Coscarelli says three, coach Brett Williams says he can document seven — were denied places on the roster because their Student Athletic Clearance Packets were turned in late.
“By disrespecting the program and even unjustly preventing people from participating on the team, the SRHS administration is furthering inequality within the education system and preventing students from engaging in constructive extracurricular activities,” junior Liam Galbraith wrote in an email to The Press Democrat.
Galbraith’s opinion holds some weight. He was our All-Empire Boys Badminton Player of the Year in 2014.
To Coscarelli, the matter is unfortunate but easy to adjudicate. The paperwork was late, pure and simple.
“We have 2,000 students at Santa Rosa High,” Coscarelli said. “It’s a large, diverse population. No matter what we do on campus, if a deadline is a deadline, it’s a deadline — no matter what event or topic.”
But Williams, the badminton coach, claims his program is hamstrung by those deadlines. The badminton team doesn’t get a regular slot in the SRHS gym until basketball season ends. Santa Rosa has one of the top girls basketball programs in the area. The Panthers regularly make the playoffs; this year, their season didn’t end until an NCS quarterfinal loss to Clayton Valley on Feb. 27. Packets were due four days earlier.
“It’s hard to corner kids about paperwork when I don’t have access to them,” Williams said. “Last year we didn’t have our first official practice until after spring break. It really puts me at a disadvantage. We lose kids to track and other sports.”
A late start is a particular problem for badminton, Williams said, because his players are not typical high school athletes. Most of them don’t play another school sport. Some of them have never played on any organized team. For these kids, word of mouth is everything. A lot of them don’t feel comfortable joining until they are encouraged by others who have figured out how welcoming badminton is.
Coscarelli insists that no sport at Santa Rosa High gets special treatment, and refutes Williams’ claim that badminton is left without practice time. Coscarelli concedes that a team in the midst of a playoff run gets precedence, but says the badminton squad has plenty of opportunity to work out; they just have to juggle times with the basketball team.
And there is an alternate space.
“Santa Rosa High has two gyms, the north gym and the south gym,” Coscarelli explained. “Our main gym is the south gym, where we play all of our league games. The old north gym is from the 1930s. It’s the original gym, and it’s not ideal. There aren’t badminton lines on the court, so it would have to be taped or something. But it’s a facility that could be used, and was offered.”
Williams insists the north gym court is too small for regulation badminton.
Anyway, Williams and kids like Galbraith have a deeper complaint. SRHS administrators acknowledge they made allowances for at least two softball players who turned in late forms. Coscarelli said that there were “special circumstances” surrounding these students. And co-athletic director Kris Bertsch argued that Santa Rosa might have had to scrap its JV softball program if the deadlines had been strictly enforced.
“To save a program, we made a last-ditch effort to get two more girls out there to field a team,” Bertsch wrote in an email. “I think you would agree this is a very different situation than what Badminton has when there have been 53 kids who were able to follow the rules and time line and get their Badminton Athletic Packets turned in. 53 kids … pretty sure this shows open access.”
Williams, who doesn’t cut players, and his athletes bear no grudge against the softball players. But the process has left them with the uncomfortable feeling that the rules are black-and-white for badminton, grayer for softball, feeding badminton’s image as a second-class sport.
No matter who is at fault, the result is unfortunate. Some of the kids who might benefit most from an after-school sport have been told they cannot participate.
Sophomore Beatrice Howell is one of those kids. She had never played competitive badminton before this year. But she knew Liam Galbraith from rock climbing and she unexpectedly excelled at badminton in PE. So when a friend urged her to join Williams’ team, Howell gave it a shot. When she showed up for an informal preseason tournament, though, she was told she couldn’t take the court.
“I feel sad,” Howell said. “That’s all it is, sad and disappointing. I really enjoy being around people, and that was my way of getting exercise during the week. It made me feel motivated. So I don’t know what to do at this point.”