Bay Area sports legend Rickey Henderson, a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, attended Oakland Technical High School in 1976. A gifted athlete and budding star, he started for the baseball, basketball, and football teams.
During high school, he wanted to narrow his focus to just two sports. Although he excelled at baseball, he thought about quitting because it wasn’t “cool.” The students, faculty, and administration gave the team minimal support. Few people really cared about baseball at Oakland Tech.
His mom and his baseball coach, however, persuaded him to stick with it. After his senior season, he was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the fourth round, and he went on to become one of the best leadoff hitters in major league history.
The problem that nearly cost Henderson a Hall of Fame baseball career still exists to this day, even at Miramonte. There is an upper tier of sports that receive the respect of the student body and are well attended. These sports also receive alleged preferential treatment from the athletic department. The majority of Miramonte’s varsity sports are simply passed over by the student body and not as well cared for by the school.
“No one really cares about track,” said senior Alyssa Wendt. “I never have once seen friends or classmates besides the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend [at the track meets].”
Track isn’t the only sport that is calling for more student support. Outside of basketball, baseball, football, and men’s water polo, every sport feels neglected by the student body.
“We didn’t have a lot of fans this year which was kinda sad,” said senior volleyball player Jane Siri.
Athletes do understand that their sport may not be spectator friendly though. Tennis may be “incredibly boring to watch unless you play the sport,” said senior Anastasia Kaiser. Additionally, “students aren’t brave enough to withstand the freezing temperatures of women’s soccer,” said senior Mackenzie Martin.
The under-appreciated sports at Miramonte also don’t include America’s most popular sports: football and basketball.
“It’s the nature of the environment,” said Baseball Coach and Athletic Director Vince Dell’Aquila. “Kids grow up watching Cal football, Cal basketball, or Stanford basketball and Stanford football. So it’s no surprise those are the two best attended sports.”
Many of Miramonte’s best sports are poorly attended though. Men’s water polo, men’s basketball, football, and baseball have garnered the most attention and have won numerous titles. But other sports that aren’t as popular are just as successful. Women’s soccer has won league five years running, men’s lacrosse has gone deep into NCS numerous times, men’s and women’s tennis have been mainstays atop the DFAL for years, women’s volleyball made NCS again this past season, and women’s basketball won back to back NCS championships in 2007 and 2008.
But even worse than a lack of attendance, some Miramonte sports don’t feel respected. They feel that the school isn’t behind them, and that the school considers their sport inferior.
“Until they try the sport they shouldn’t think negatively of us,” said senior wrestling captain Bryce Pummer.
Simply put, every sport on campus deserves respect. Athletes juggle their sport, school, social lives, and still manage to perform every year and represent our school well. It would help them if they had the backing of the students. These athletes don’t play for the name on the back of the jersey; they play for the school’s name on the front, which belongs to all of us.
At Oakland Tech in Rickey Henderson’s day, the baseball team wasn’t only not cool, but it was underfunded by the school. Baseball was pushed aside for other sports that the school cared more about.
At Miramonte there is a perception that some sports get preferential treatment by the Boosters Club. Though there is a degree of disparity between programs, this is less a fault of the Miramonte Athletic program or Boosters, and really a mistake of the individual sports and their coaches.
“If a team doesn’t have something that they think they need, it’s because their coaches didn’t request it,” said Dell’Aquila. “Coaches put in requests for needs, and their needs get met.”
According to Dell’Aquila, the Boosters Club gives roughly $40,000 a year in equipment to Miramonte, and $25,000 in capital improvement which could be used for anything from new basketball backboards to pole vaulting pits.
Boosters makes a very conscious effort to be equal amongst the sports. They don’t give sports a dollar amount, rather they meet 100% of coaches’ needs. If water polo needs two dozen water polo balls, they’ll get them.
Nevertheless, an obvious disparity remains amongst Miramonte’s programs.
“Football, without a doubt, gets the most support and respect,” said junior football and basketball player Jack Pietrykowski. “Although basketball gets more support than a lot of the other teams, it still does not come close to football.”
This is the responsibility of coaches. The programs that have the most also have the most involved and longest tenured coaches. Coaches Dell’Aquila and John Wade have each been at Miramonte for over a decade. These coaches are more in touch with their programs, know the system, and are able get what they need.
“It’s a perception that sports get preferential treatment, not a reality,” says Head Football Coach Wade. “I see certain programs around campus all year. I see water polo coaches around, and baseball and basketball coaches in the weight room. That kind of involvement brings excitement, and helps the kids.”
Many Miramonte coaches are only around for the three-month season, and then aren’t seen until the following year. While sports like football and basketball have coaches on campus year-round and are more familiar with the workings of Miramonte sports.
But despite equal support from the Booster’s Club, there are still stories from athletes who contend that their sport is sometimes ignored and overlooked.
“We had mice living in our pole vault pit over the summer and we were supposed to get a new top pad so that we wouldn’t have to land in mouse poop and chewed up pads, but it never came,” said Wendt. “We never were able to get new equipment and jumped in rat poop all year.”
If something like this was happening with basketball, or water polo, or football, it would be taken care of right away.
Is that preferential treatment? Maybe. It could be that the track problem was pushed aside. Or it could be that the coach wasn’t able to secure help simply because they weren’t familiar with the system.
Athletes also feel that they get pushed aside for more popular sports. “All our school cares about is football and that’s where all of the publicity goes,” said senior volleyball captain Kirsten Rutledge. “We were upset that the homecoming rally was all about football. What about asking all of the fall captains about how their teams are doing? What happened to that?”
Not all sports have equal equipment, or are treated equally. But these problems aren’t to be blamed on the Athletic Department or the Boosters Club. Coaches whose programs feel neglected need to do a better job of using the system to get what they need. These programs are not being overlooked, but rather their coaches are not familiar with the system.
As students, and as a school, we need to support all of our student athletes. They play for us, and we need to be behind them in full force.
“I lose the same blood, sweat and tears that any other athlete does. I work hard in practice to perform in the meets, the same as any other athlete,” said senior track runner Ashraf Mathkour. All these athletes want is backing from the school. That’s the least they deserve.