Peninsula Beacon: What does the term “PLHS Athletics” encompass?
John Murphy: We now field a total of 71 teams in 19 different sports, band, cheer and NJROTC when you include boys and girls teams, varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. An estimated 1,280 roster spots are taken by more than 800 students.
People see each of these teams at games, but they’re not aware of the background that goes on, whether it’s hiring coaches, raising funds for equipment, scheduling games, coordinating on-campus practice and game times, arranging transportation and paying for referees. There are a lot of pieces that go into it, including an emergency action plan in the event of injury or an event that might occur at the school.
Pointer pride is a big thing here. The history of the school, having integrity and I think our sense of community is very important. We have generations of alums coming out to our games, and we want to do things the right way, which is to instill values in our program and students.
PB: What must athletes do before they may begin participation?
JM: Every athlete must complete an Athletics Packet, which includes their physical, completed per district regulations, which is then submitted, verified and cleared. The student must have insurance (also sold by the school to non-covered students). They also have to have eligible academic and citizenship standing (2.0 or “C” grades).
PB: You oversee about 65 coaches, many of them not PLHS staff members, working with PLHS students. How are they screened?
JM: Every coach must be processed. They have to have a tuberculosis test, a CPR card and take a coaching class at the district, which is two hours in the classroom and two additional hours online. They must pass a knowledge-of-concussions test and become certified that they know the concussion protocols. Most of them will work in our fitness center, and there is another curriculum clearing them to instruct our students there. After they provide all of this documentation, they must be fingerprinted by the district, which sends the prints on to the FBI for clearance so we know they are appropriate adult supervisors. We strive for community commitment and continuity to produce successful programs. These people are not doing this for the money, but to make a positive impact on kids’ lives.
PB: Why is athletics important in today’s curriculum?
JM: We’ve all heard about obesity and other issues we have in our society. Athletics is a way to combat this. Over the course of time, athletics is a constant way to teach human experiences and values. It’s a great learning experience in how to overcome adversity. Everyone is going to have adversity in their lives, and teaching these young people how to handle adversity — especially with class — is an incredible teachable moment. The friendships you make and the memories … I know as a person I’ve had some wonderful teachers, but the coaches tend to stick out in my mind, the ones that spent additional hours to mentor us as young people. We all take that very seriously here at PLHS and understand our impact on these young people’s lives and try to help shape them on and off the field.
We have a number of at-risk kids, whose home lives are full of drama and turmoil. I believe athletics is a way to build their self-esteem, make them feel part of a family and connect them to school. We’ve really made an effort to connect the freshmen to the school early so they’ll continue in a healthy way.
If you ask me how the kids are doing, I would say, “Ask me in 10 years when they come back as productive citizens” because that’s what we are trying to produce here.
PB: What are the greatest challenges facing PLHS Athletics?
JM: One, of course, is funding. As we’ve added programs, the district has not had the resources to fund them. We have to do fundraising or count on donations and our booster clubs since we don’t charge fees for our programs. And we’ve also taken on the challenge of funding athletic trainers (‘Protect Our Pointers’) to be present at all practices and games.
The other challenge at PLHS is space. We’re on 16.7 acres with approximately 1,900 students. I’ve been told by the district that a similar new school built today would require 56 to 58 acres. This would include multiple practice fields. We have a very vibrant athletic program, yet we must have all of our physical education classes and athletics practices on one field, which makes it very difficult to facilitate everything. Luckily, our coaches work well together, with a lot of very creative scheduling to make all the teams fit and rotate on the field. Since the implementation of Title IX legislation in 1978, we’ve added many girls’ sports. During fall, for example, football has the field for a limited time, then the girls’ field hockey team begins their practice. In winter, we have four soccer teams on the field at one time and if football or field hockey is still in the playoffs, they need space too. We go until dark. We’re competing against schools that have a full field for each sport to use.
PB: How would the addition of stadium lighting help athletes and coaches?
JM: If we had lights, we could let kids stay in school and not have them pulled out of academic classes for games that must begin at 3 p.m. Athletes could attend tutoring sessions we offer every day from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. A recent field hockey game was called off five minutes into the second half because of darkness. We could start practices later, allowing kids to take a seventh-period academic class. Even though it’s still only one field, we could stagger practice times to give boys’ and girls’ teams equal time.
Now, if one team has a game, no other team can practice, but we could conduct practices before or after games with lighting as an option. I foresee our practices ending by 7:30 p.m. with lighting, maybe the band staying out until 8. Times have changed … with Title IX and the additional programs, it makes it almost a necessity to have lights. Limited use is what I support, the coaches and community supports. Lights would be out by
8 p.m. on weekdays, there would be limited daytime Saturday use and no Sunday use ever.
As for games, the number of events would be limited and equal for girls and boys. The district is looking at limiting night competitions to 19 events total, with an “event” defined as one that draws 300 or more spectators. I think the field would have to be restricted to the high school under that format. It has to meet the needs of our students and athletes here at PLHS first. And I would like to see a district policy prohibiting the overuse of artificial turf fields, not just the natural grass ones. Our field is the heaviest-used classroom on campus, hosting all P.E. classes, plus games, conditioning, band, NJROTC, cheer and even graduation.
The only other activity that would draw 300 fans is Pop Warner football on Saturdays. And if a group is using one facility on campus, I don’t allow any other activity so that it will minimize parking issues. Also, no outside groups are allowed to use the stadium P.A. system.
PB: When would the stadium be available for rental?
JM: A use policy will be created giving PLHS first priority, the Point Loma Cluster schools second priority and youth or community groups third priority.
PB: Where else might the many youth and community groups find playing space?
JM: One of my dreams is to see the Correia (Middle School) project become the pinnacle sports complex in Point Loma. It’s a great location with a lot more parking than we have here at the high school. At the present time, we are looking at Correia having three multi-purpose fields, all artificially turfed, for field hockey, football, lacrosse and soccer plus a baseball field, all lighted. There would be team rooms, restrooms and an after-school tutorial center for students. I think for the youth and community, with its proximity to Bill Cleator Park and the Peninsula YMCA, that would make a perfect sports complex. The Correia kids would have priority during the school day and for their after-school programs and then all the youth programs could rent space. The youth and community groups will have everything right there. This would leave Point Loma High just for high school students, with very limited use by other groups and only after the needs of the high school have been met.
PB: I understand you live near PLHS.
JM: I live in Loma Portal, my daughter graduated from PLHS in 2010, and I completely understand the issues. There are wonderful, talented and intelligent neighbors on both sides of this topic making great points. I believe people reading this can make up their own minds as to what they feel is appropriate. I have no problem with people’s opinions one way or the other. We’ve done this without lights for 88 years, but times have changed, and with all the new sports and programs, it’s almost a necessity to have lights at this point.