A few months ago, Stuart Hall High School wasn’t too worried about athletics.
The institution was more concerned about just keeping its 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 eight-man football season that begins on Saturday against Crystal Springs Uplands of Hillsborough at Treasure Island.
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 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.
While the Knights may not end up on the winning side of the scoreboard on Saturday, the day will be special nonetheless.
“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.”
Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com