Ygnacio Valley High hosted first home football game
under permanent lights
By Lou Fancher
Under the blaze of new, permanent Friday night lights, nothing outshone the Ygnacio Valley High School Warriors football team.
Defeating Mission-San Francisco 18-14 in the season's first home game Sept. 5, coach confidence, player pride, a 2-yard sprint, a 53-yard dash, a 52-yard touchdown run, and four light towers added up to a big win.
"They feel like they're in the NFL," said head coach Phillip Puente -- and that was before Friday's game, after players had practiced under the lights for only three days.
"We all see potential," said running back Favio Buelna, during a halftime interview. "We've been building: everybody's out for the team this year."
He wasn't kidding: the lure of new lights brought out alumni, former coaches, fans, families and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer.
"I'm here because of the new lights, sure, but this might become a steady habit," Meyer said. "Look around, it's football!"
Aside from being swept along in the excitement of a cheer-prone crowd that quarterback Andrew Leonard said was "definitely bigger than ever," Meyer had admiring words for Principal Stephen Brady and his staff.
"The school had conversations and did a lot of great work with the neighbors," she said. "Once they had input, they were able to support the project."
Brady said last year's complaints, aired by disgruntled neighbors at a Mt. Diablo school board meeting in August 2013, were ongoing, but mostly concerned noise, not lights.
"We need to draw in those people and honor them," Brady said. "We're continuing community meetings on a monthly basis."
After feedback from the community, plans for the four light towers were altered, according to Brady. A narrower lamp was selected and efforts were made to focus the beams on the field instead of into neighboring homes' backyards. A sound wall adds additional protection.
Booster president and PTA Treasurer Sherry Whitmarsh said focus group meetings led the school to implement parking and trash controls and to reduce the number of outside user groups from 4 to 3.
"We did that to give more peace and quiet to the neighbors. My home is right near De La Salle, so I know the impact firsthand," Whitmarsh said.
She said the lights filling her backyard are out at 10 p.m. and are "a way of life." Complimentary tickets were offered to neighboring homeowners, leading Whitmarsh to suggest, "If they choose to, they can come to a game."
Skip Naler, class of 1969, didn't need a special invitation to show up on Friday.
"Absolutely marvelous," he said, about the lights. "We tried to get them when I was in school."
Naler was a trainer for the Warriors. He went on to become head trainer at Saint Mary's College before working for the Raiders, Los Angeles Dodgers and as a scout for the Seattle Seahawks.
He recalled renting lights from Diablo Valley College at great expense -- and being dumbfounded when the district turned down PG&E's offer to donate lights from Pleasant Hill High School.
"That school was closing and they were willing to give us the lights. I never knew why the district denied it," Naler said, " but this is an all-around plus."
Puentes echoed his claim.
"Throwing under the lights, we've had more concentration," he said. Although the team leans to a ground base attack, the rare, deep throws stand out better in the lights, according to Puentes.
"More importantly, we've been able to raise our GPA because the academics happen right after school." Alex Rodrigues, a guard in his fourth season on the team, agreed.
"In the morning study hall when we used to study, if you had a question, teachers weren't around," he said. "And we had to get up at six to play Saturday morning games. Other teams had lights, now we do, too."
Friday night games eliminate suffering on-the-field-heat of their previous 4:30 p.m. start times, according to several players.
But the biggest bonus was captured in the words of center Diego Lopez and guard/center Steven Caffey, who teamed up nearly stereo to describe the light's impact as "amazing," "emotional," "a big step up" and "bringing back the old atmosphere of champions."
Sarah Jones, a junior, said confidence had risen throughout the school because of the recent additions of science labs and football lights.
"It creates more spirit and after so many years of waiting, it puts new life into the student body," she said.
A help line has been established for neighbors to provide feedback, and Puentes compared the community outreach to football, where staying ahead of the curve and reaching for learning are the name of the game.