A pair of area parents are in the early stages of a proposal to bring girls soccer to California High School, a process that could be more complicated than implied at the face value.
The pair, comprised of Desiree Vitale and Zach Hackett, is included on the agenda for January's school board meeting, where they'll officially make their case to district leadership. In the meantime, the pro-girls soccer contingent is working to spread public awareness and support for their efforts. Currently, CHS has 11 athletics offerings for students to participate in throughout the school year, as listed on the school's website: baseball, boys and girls basketball, cheerleading, cross country, dance, football, golf, softball, track and volleyball.
Vitale and Hackett have experience working with children in California's parks and recreation soccer program, and maintain a tangible benefit of a high school girls program would allow those youth participants to continue with a sport they enjoy without an "expiration date" as they age out of the rec league.
Hackett also already has experience with successfully proposing a new athletic program at the high school level — he was part of the group that brought football to Russellville, where the school's JV team has just completed its first full season. Hackett said, with this experience in mind, he knows the task at hand when it comes to starting a new athletic program — a tall task, but not an impossible one.
"I'm of the mindset that if we can do more, we should be doing more," Hackett said. "Because we're doing it for the kids, and for their chance to have exposure to sports."
Both members of the pair lobbied heavily for the idea of having the option for students. Hackett said specific to the spring season in which girls soccer would take place, the only other girls sport available is track and field, leaving students who would otherwise be interested in participating in athletics but aren't interested in track without a sport to participate in.
Hackett argues the types of hurdles that can come with starting a new athletic program are ones that girls soccer could clear — based on rec league participation, the pair has an idea of numbers that could feed into such a program, and a facility in which the team could play and possibly practice already exists in the school's football field.
Beyond the logistics of their efforts, Hackett said having options for California's students is always a cause worth backing.
"If it's something you believe in, it's something you need to fight for and something you need to be vocal about," Hackett said.
For all the optimism about the benefits of a new athletic offering on the proposing group's side, there comes a bevy of complicated moving parts to consider from the district's perspective.
Superintendent Dwight Sanders said namely, there are concerns about filling out a full season schedule and providing the team with a good coach, both of which are hurdles Vitale and Hackett acknowledge as considerable and ones they have already had in mind as they work on their proposal.
"A lot of people don't recognize that when we're hiring, we can't just go find the best soccer coach that's within a 200-mile radius of us and say 'Hey, we want to hire you to be our soccer coach,'" Sanders said. "Because we also then have to ask, 'Well, what are you certified in?' They're not coming here for a $3,000 coaching stipend. There's got to be a full-time job to draw them here."
In many instances, Sanders said incoming coaching hires tend to be athletically-inclined and, as such, will typically want to fill roles teaching subjects like physical education or health, which can be limited. Sanders said in the 10 years he's been in California, the P.E. spot hasn't opened up more than once.
"Those don't open up very often and when they do, you get hundreds of applicants for one position," Sanders said.
Of the eight schools in California's conference, only Boonville, Osage and Southern Boone currently offer girls soccer, so the district would also have to consider the potential of further travel for the team to fill a schedule and see competition, Sanders said.
These challenges aren't unique to just the girls soccer proposal. The district is currently considering the differing hurdles for a second proposed athletic offering, as wrestling is on the school board's agenda for next month's meeting.
From a conference perspective, Sanders said wrestling is probably the more viable of the two proposals at the face value, since every other school in the conference already has a team. Filling out a full season schedule wouldn't be as much of a challenge, with the added benefit of being able to schedule meets with multiple schools if the need arises.
Yet even with more perceived viability, challenges still remain when considering adding to the list of extracurricular opportunities for students, Sanders said, especially when assessing the opportunities that already exist.
"I recognize and certainly appreciate (that) those things are important to our students," Sanders said. "We want them to have those kinds of opportunities. It really just comes down to what is the right number of opportunities — you've (already) got student council, you've got FFA (which) more than half of our students are engaged (in)."
Sanders said this is often a question of offering enough without offering too much, a delicate balance to maintain. One concern of maintaining such a balance, especially when considering the addition of girls soccer, is the potential for community feedback to point toward the desire for adding a boys team as well once the girls program is up and running, pulling resources in this case from fall sports programs like football and cross country. This was another element that Vitale and Hackett considered when deciding to move forward with their proposal, choosing to focus solely on girls soccer rather than a program for both boys and girls.
Ultimately, Sanders said, the idea is to avoid taking away resources from other activities as a result of any additions.
In the time between now and January's board meeting, Vitale said the plan is to get the proposal more firmly coordinated, beyond the base level discussions that have happened in the early stages thus far.
"My plan, as I slowly work toward January, is basically to draft something similar to a business proposal," Vitale said. "I feel like the advantages are clear. Like any sport, it's beyond winning. You're teaching your kid how to be a better citizen through sports, making them coachable, (performing) physical exercise, learning strategy, following rules."
In the very early stages, Vitale said the biggest component of the campaign has been getting the word out and keeping a finger on the pulse of what people in the community want — especially making sure the families who would be interested in participating know that the group's proposal is on the horizon and could benefit from a show of support once January rolls around.
She said it would be prudent to gauge such interest about a month out from the meeting itself, to see whether the efforts in the buildup to get the word out have been successful or not.
"The school board will want to know, of the 4,500 people in California, how many are interested," Vitale said. "I don't think we should limit it to the population of who is currently in the high school, because there's going to be people that will want it in the future. So it's going to be the whole community of California that should have a say in this."
Vitale said she and Hackett had discussed potentially hosting a community meeting to talk to interested community members about their proposal, and potentially outreach via social media channels or email lists.
For all of the challenges it may face, the proposal will continue to flesh out as January approaches, Vitale said.