Making a path

Pacific Bay’s Dean of Athletics Natalie Ayres checks out the  school’s recently developed cross-country trail. Photo courtesy Pacific Bay Christian School

This Friday can’t come too soon for Terra Nova football coach Jason Piccolotti. He’s ready to field a team. The last time he saw a football was in the final game of the 2019 season when a failed point-after-touchdown cost his team a trip to the state championship.

“It still hurts to think about that game,” said Piccolotti. “I’m ready to get our athletes back on the field. There’s a lot of frustration from both students and parents. I’ve even had a couple of players thinking of transferring. We need to get these athletes back on the field.”

Unfortunately, that opportunity might not come for Piccolotti.

Being that football is a Season 1 sport, the chances of Terra Nova playing football is slim considering that the Jefferson Union High School Board of Trustees already voted to not compete in Season 1 sports. It would take a decision change by the trustees to put the team on the field.

Last week, the California Department of Public Health announced that high school football and

other outdoor sports will be

allowed to resume play starting this Friday in counties with a per capita case rate of fewer than 14 per 100,000 residents. San Mateo County is one of the 27 counties that currently meet the opening criteria.

“Give me the green light and I will get the athletes together in a matter of minutes,” said Piccolotti, who returns to Terra Nova for his second year. “It will be a challenge for us, considering we have only had Zoom contact with the players. Hopefully, they have done their conditioning and will be ready to play should we get that opportunity. We do not even know how many students have registered to play.”

At a meeting of Peninsula Athletic League athletics directors earlier this month, a decision was made to form a football league composed of San Mateo County schools. Participating PAL schools from the San Mateo Union School District are Aragon, Burlingame, Capuchino, Hillsdale, Mills and San Mateo. Four schools from the Sequoia Union High School District — Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton, Sequoia and Woodside — along with Half Moon Bay and South San Francisco will join the league.

Piccolotti is hoping that the trustees will let his team compete in the recently formed PAL. The JUHSD Board of Trustees was taking up the measure on Tuesday night, after Tribune print deadlines.

“There’s some bye dates on the PAL schedule. We would be happy to slide into that slot to play,” said Piccolotti. According to the schedule released by PAL, games could start March 21, with the last game on April 16 with no playoffs. “Most likely each team would play five games. I would take that.”

At the Board’s Feb. 2 meeting, the trustees discussed allowing participation in some competitions being offered in Season 2, which will begin in April. Since that meeting, district leaders have been collaborating with school principals, athletic directors, coaches, transportation and maintenance in order to provide a plan to the trustees that follows the CIF and CDPH COVID-19 athletic guidelines. The plan will also include which sports schools will offer, along with testing protocols. The board was to consider this plan at its meeting last night.

“The Board of Trustees understands that participating in athletics has a positive social, psychological and emotional effect on students,” said Jefferson Union High School District Superintendent Toni Presta. “The board also recognizes that a significant portion of our community is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. When presented with the plan for Season 2 of the Peninsula Athletic League, be assured that the board will consider both the safety and well-being of our district community along with the clear benefits of athletics to students when making their decision.”

A month ago, not too many people would have bet that high school football, or any of the Season 1 sports, would return. And, had it not been for a couple of advocacy groups, football probably would not have returned. A Facebook organization, Let Them Play CA, and a coaches’ group called Golden State High School Football Coaches Community, organized by Serra football coach Patrick Walsh, led a movement to put pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state health organizations to get youth back playing sports.

Oceana Athletic Director Holden Lai finds his school in the same situation as Terra Nova though the coaches have not been able to connect with the athletes. Originally, the school was hoping to field a cross-country team in Season 1.

“Unfortunately, not many students have signed up for each of the sports. And, add to that situation, we have had a lot of new hires and several coaching changes. Most coaches have not been able to connect with their athletes enough to even do virtual workouts,” said Lai.

Pac Bay opens trail

While Terra Nova and Oceana are forgoing the cross-country season, Pacific Bay Christian School’s athletes are in a training phase with the focus not so much on long-distance training but participation and conditioning at each student’s level.

Last week the school created firebreaks on the Pac Bay mountain behind the school, which will also serve as a cross-country trail. The course is still being finalized. It will run a little under 2 miles when finished.

“It’s a brutal climb to the top of the mountain but has spectacular views at the peak. I have nicknamed it ‘water tower run.’” The course will be extremely challenging with the elevation increase,” said Natalie Ayres, Pac Bay’s dean of athletics.

Pac Bay is a member of the Private School Athletic League. The league is staying within the California Interscholastic Federation/Central Coast Section guidelines of Season 1 and Season 2.

“For Pac Bay, even under the most restrictive orders, we have found creative ways to serve our students within the guidelines,” said Ayres. “We piloted outdoor education in January where students anticipate in archery, skateboarding, kayaking, nature art, hiking, nature photography and lawn games. With the announcement of more sports opening we are excited for the students to return to playing.”


Pacifica lost two notable sports figures recently.

Floyd Gonella, 87, was Terra Nova High School’s first football coach. He was one of the first teachers when the school was built in 1961. He then went onto a distinguished career in education, serving as superintendent of the Jefferson Union High School and Ravenswood City school districts and as elected county superintendent of schools. His legacy spanned more than 50 years.

Manny Lacosta, 88, coached youth baseball in Pacifica in the 1970s. A former player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he was one of the early leaders to help shape Joe DiMaggio baseball in the community. He coached the Pacifica DiMaggio team from 1971 to 1981. He later moved to Groveland.

Horace Hinshaw is a longtime Pacifica journalist and contributor to the Tribune.

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