By Jeremy Balan
A few months ago, Stuart Hall High School wasn’t too worried about athletics.
The institution was more concerned about just keeping it’s doors open.
Struggling with debt and reduced enrollment, the 10-year-old school considered closing to hedge those issues, but the Stuart Hall community rallied to raise more than $3 million over the summer to keep the school alive.
That will be the same community that will be rooting on the Knights in their inaugural 8-man football season in 2010.
The potential impact is not lost on the first-time players.
“It’s a powerful thing,” said senior Carter Chickering, who will suit up at tight end. “Our school was going to close down, but I think football is going to be a big part of bringing in more freshman students and transfers.”
Headed by coach John Bertken, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, the team will look to reflect the passion and commitment of the school’s supporters.
“At the beginning of each year, the school chooses a theme by which to follow. Last year the theme was ‘tenacity,'” Bertken said. “For the nine years I have been at this school, the players have embodied tenacity in athletics, but this year, the entire community showed the same. It is truly inspiring.”
Bertken, who played and coached at St. Ignatius, has had the plan for football in place for two years, but it was always held up by the school’s lack of a consistent field. That problem was resolved recently, when the school partnered with the San Francisco Gaelic Athletic Association, enabling the Knights to play home games on Treasure Island.
“There were some other logistical issues that held us back in the past,” Berkten said. “But football adds so much to an athletic department and to a school community, that it just had to happen.”
The team will feature 20 players, many from the successful basketball program, including Chickering and fellow senior Rahsaan Johnson.
“Most of the guys on the team are basketball players,” Chickering said. “But we’ve been going to the weight room every other day to prepare [for the season].”
The Knights’ season will open up on Sept. 11 at Treasure Island, in a non-league game against Crystal Springs Uplands of Hillsborough.
“It will be a historic day for [Stuart Hall],” Bertken said. “There should be a good-sized crowd as anxious about the moment as the players themselves. It will be difficult not to get caught up in all of that.”
Crystal Springs will play Stuart Hall twice this season. First, in the non-league opener, and second, in a Coastal League game on Oct. 9.
The normally CIF-North Coast Section aligned Stuart Hall will get an exemption to play in the Central Coast Section’s Coastal League, due to the lack of teams in the NCS.
“All of the schools in this league are small schools like ourselves or even smaller,” Bertken said. “[There are] a couple of better teams in the league, like Anchor Point Christian from Gilroy and Crystal Springs, but to tell you the truth, my concern isn’t who we play, it’s how we play.”
The ability for the team to pick up the fundamentals of the game will be key for the Knights, who largely have not played football prior to this point.
The team will likely have to lean heavily on junior Alex Asdourian, who will start at quarterback for the Knights, as well as defensive end.
Asdourian is one of the few Stuart Hall players who has played football prior and, at one time, he had designs of playing football at NCS power Marin Catholic in Kentfield.
“I’m just happy to be part of the first team,” Asdourian said. “I see a lot of strength and a lot of athletes [on the team], but we’re going to have to put it all together. We have to expect some failure [in the first season].”
Odds are, Stuart Hall will have difficulties competing with established 8-man teams this season, but the lasting impact will be more than that.
Not only will the Knights attempt to emulate the “tenacity” of the Stuart Hall supporters, they may set a precedent for small-school football in San Francisco.
“I think it is on the minds of many schools our size,” Bertken said. “The NCS could be next.”
2010 Schedule (Coastal League games in bold)
Sat. 9/11 – vs. Crystal Springs Upland (Hillsborough) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
Sat. 9/18 – vs. Trinity Christian (Monterey) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
Sat. 10/2 – vs. Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
Sat. 10/9 – @ Crystal Springs Uplands (Hillsborough), 1 p.m.
Sat. 10/16 – @ Trinity Christian (Monterey), 1 p.m.
Sat. 10/23 – vs. Cornerstone Christian (Antioch) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
Sat. 10/30 – @ Woodside Priory (Portola Valley), 1 p.m.
Sat. 11/6 – vs. Anchor Point Christian (Gilroy) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.