The discussion was heated but civil Wednesday night as community members, Mountain View High School students and the school's Athletic Boosters discussed whether the Spartans might hold their Oct. 26 homecoming game after dark. Advocates said the move is aimed at boosting school and community pride, while skeptical neighbors worried it's part of a bigger scheme to erect permanent floodlights in their backyards.
About 50 people -- mostly from homes surrounding the campus -- met at Alta Vista High School's multipurpose room Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. to listen as officials from the boosters and a handful of Mountain View students explained their plan for the upcoming homecoming match against Alta Vista High School. The Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's board of trustees is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the nighttime game at its next meeting on Oct. 8.
"The point of doing this game is to build school spirit," JJ Kapp said to the crowd. Kapp is vice president of the MVHS Athletic Boosters Club and parent to a sophomore. The school's sports teams have all been improving, advancing further in the season and participation is up in certain athletic activities, he told the room. "Now the time is right to build school spirit. … What it really comes down to is the students."
However, many in the crowd expressed suspicion that the proposed homecoming game was merely a wedge, intended to move the school toward installing permanent lights -- an action that could lead to the district leasing the field to other teams and an ever-increasing stream of traffic, noise and teens behaving badly in the surrounding community.
Worries of bad behavior, paired with the strong community resistance, seemed to draw exasperation from many of the teens in the room.
One highly vocal man, John Mahlmeister, addressed a group of MVHS seniors directly and told them he doesn't want to be their enemy, andcould even get behind the idea of having one night game each year played under temporary lights that could be wheeled on and off the field -- but concluding by telling the group, "I'm sorry, but you're being used."
Martin VanRyswyk said he feels the Athletic Boosters are trying to pull a quarterback sneak with this proposal. "It's a strategy," VanRyswyk said, recalling that the boosters were "chastised" once already by the MVLA board of trustees for not including the community in their plan for this year's homecoming game. So they are holding a "perfunctory meeting," and hoping they can "ram" the proposal through at the upcoming board meeting, he charged.
"We're not trying to 'ram' anything through," Kapp responded.
The reason his group has been working so rapidly, Kapp said, is that the school year has only recently begun and the boosters simply want the students and the community to be able to rally around the team -- not to mention the cheerleaders, the band and the dance squad who are also slated to perform at the event.
"Neighbors have every right to be concerned. We understand that. They don't necessarily know everything about us, so they don't immediately trust us to be able to put on a game without problems."
Indeed, a handful of residents said they were convinced that above-average attendance would invariably result in above-average traffic, public intoxication, littering and vandalism. And at least two members of the audience said they did not trust the boosters' motives.
The suspicion is that the endgame is to begin hosting nighttime events -- sporting or otherwise -- on a regular basis. One resident who spoke up said that his family and many others understood there would be noise and other disturbances when they moved into the neighborhood. However, he and his neighbors can at least count on things quieting down at night, he said.
"It is my impression that their long-term goal is permanent lights," VanRyswyk said. "And so this is a trial to show the school board that they can pull it off. And it's going to be a show to try and be on the best behavior and make it work and then use that as evidence that is something they can do full time. So, to us, this is more than just one game."
Two students, seniors Mia Guthert and Kate Thomas, said it was upsetting to hear many of the adults in the crowd equate increased teens in the area with increased hooliganism.
Guthert said she understands that living near a high school means living nearer to a hub where there will be teens getting rowdy, but she thinks having one game is not going to send the neighborhood into a downward spiral. "I always think you're going to have troublemakers, but I really don't believe that having night games you're going to see a drastic increase in criminal activity."
Thomas said she and her friends would love to be able to attend a night game at their own school. Right now, she said, there is "no excitement" at the MVHS day games and she would rather go to a game at St. Francis High School, which hosts games at night. Thomas said she finds these events much more fun than sitting in the sun immediately following school on a Friday.