In a recent game in Oakland, Castlemont players and coaches chose to kneel during the national anthem.

Kaepernick anthem protest impacts NorCal high school teams

October 4, 2016

The expression “take a knee” has been around as long as kids have been playing football.

One of the first things a player learns from coaches at the earliest stages of organized youth football is when either a teammate or an opposing player is hurt or injured it is customary for all players in the game to go down into a position with one knee bent and the other touching the ground. This is done out of respect for the injured player.

Now, with the actions of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been taking a knee during the national anthem as an expression of solidarity with those he feels have been discriminated against due to their race, the gesture has taken on a whole new meaning that has trickled down to high school football.

So far, there has been no indication of any school, district or individual coaches in Northern California prohibiting players from taking a knee during the national anthem, but coaches throughout the high school football world have been presented with this issue front and center.

The reality is this compared to the handful of professional teams, there are over 15,000 high schools in America and 1,600 in California, meaning high school coaches are dealing with this on an ongoing basis and in a big way.

Bishop O'Dowd head coach Napoleon Kaufman is uniquely qualified to address the issue. Not only is Kaufman a high school coach, but he played in the National Football League and is an ordained minister and the current team chaplain of the Oakland Raiders.

“We’ve actually discussed it as a team,” Kaufman said. “My biggest thing is if a kid wants to take a knee - and it’s his individual decision to do this and show solidarity with this cause - I don’t mind. But that doesn’t mean I agree with them.”

Joe Cattolico of Sheldon-Sacramento, who was featured on Prep2Prep last week along with his legendary coaching father Butch Cattolico, weighed in with his opinion.

“We haven’t talked about it as a group, but it also came up in our school district (Elk Grove Unified School District) and the district came out with a statement saying whatever students choose to do that’s their right.”

Cattolico’s response was deeper and more like the U.S. history teacher side of him when asked if he agreed with the district.

“You know, I do. I think that what I would like to see is if students are going to do something like that, what I would like to see is that they really can explain their rationale and reasoning versus just wanting to be like Colin Kaepernick," he said. "My hope is if they’re taking that position they’ve looked at it carefully. I totally agree it’s a teachable moment.”

The issue has come up in all demographic areas including Monta Vista-Danville, home of the No. 4-ranked team in the latest Prep2Prep North Coast Section Top 25 rankings.

“I think the issue has come up everywhere. It’s in the national spotlight and particularly here in the Bay Area since it centers around Colin Kaepernick everyone is talking about it,” said Monte Vista coach Craig Bergman. “We haven’t seen it yet since no one on our team or the opposing teams we’ve played has participated. If they do, it’s their choice and I would support them.”

Coach Andrew Cotter of Moreau Catholic-Hayward was amused by the timeliness of being asked to chime in on the issue.

“It’s funny that you’re calling today,” Cotter said on Monday morning. “We’ve had some informal discussions on the subject and I’ve talked to a few players personally, but today we’re having a team discussion.”

“It’s a pretty delicate situation,” continued Cotter with respect to what his ideas are and what he might tell the team. “We would like to show our concern with some things going on in society, and bring awareness to what’s going on, but instead of acting individually, let's decide as a team what are our beliefs and what do we stand for.”

The top-ranked team in the Prep2Prep Sac-Joaquin Section Top 25 and state top 10 team Del Oro-Loomis has strong military ties, according to coach Casey Taylor, and that has affected the team's approach to the issue.

“We’ve talked about the national anthem stuff but it’s not an issue at all,” Taylor said. “We want people to stand up for what they believe but we just don't think the national anthem is the place to protest. We’ve done a lot of pro-military stuff like The Honor Bowl and the national anthem respects the military – and that’s what we want to do.”

Similarly to the stance at Del Oro was the sentiment at Berean Christian-Walnut Creek, led by former Super Bowl champion and nine-year NFL veteran James Hodgins. Hodgins' team includes players from inner-city Oakland, but his coaching staff also includes police officers and military veterans. For that reason, the Eagles have chosen to educate and discuss these issues away from the field.

"These are definitely issues we want discussed, and we educate within our program," Hodgins said. "But as far as during the anthem, you will see a unified team standing on our sideline. This is how our players have chosen to respond, and we have some real in-depth discussions regarding what we do, and how we can help off the field."

As is the case with any issue there are two or more sides, and although Prep2Prep talked to a few coaches that did not support players actions on the issue, none would say so publicly. Most coaches appear to be taking a pragmatic, sensible approach to this issue and - like Cattolico - using it as a teachable moment.

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