Napa Valley Updates

Monday, September 28, 2009

This is from the Press Democrat. Why don't the St. Helena Star and Napa Register Publish articles like this? Is it not newsworthy? Or is there a bias perhaps?

St. Helena has a wealth of supporters


Published: Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 4:19 p.m.

School officials didn't have much of a choice. The high school's nickname had to be something mainstream, so as not to be too obvious, for the deep-wallet donors around here prefer anonymity as opposed to public glorification. And so it came to be. They are called The St. Helena Saints. Calling them The St. Helena Horn Of Plenty probably would have been a little over the top. Although it would have made a wonderful insignia on the football helmets.

“Not a day goes by,” said St. Helena athletic director Tom Hoppe, “that I am not thanking someone.”

If he's not thanking someone, Hoppe is responding to a question that begs like a dog to be answered: How can a little ant of a high school — student population 525 — pull such a heavy financial load? The total construction costs, when all nine projects are completed on campus, will be a staggering $19,260,914. Five already have been finished, at a price of slightly more than $11 million. Approximately half of that $19 million will be spent on athletic facilities.

“We are indeed very fortunate to have people in the area who care about St. Helena High school,” said Dr. Robert Haley, school district superintendent, in the mother of understatements. Haley won't say it but he could — Oh, you won't find many cities anywhere that care about its high school as St. Helena does, i.e. opening their wallets.

Money may not buy happiness but it does make for a great first impression and there's nothing at the high school that impresses more than its football field. The only way Bob Patterson Memorial Field could be more impressive is Joe Montana working the concession stand.

“It was the best money could buy at the time,” said Haley of the field that opened in 2007. “I have not seen a better football field in Northern California.”

It is an artificial turf field built by FieldTurf and after 125 events it still looks brand-new. It is so clean, so neat, so pristine, it has the appearance of something that belongs at a high-end four-year university, rather than at a small high school.

“See the yardage numbers on the field, they have shadows behind them,” said Hoppe, noting the aesthetic appeal. “Even college fields at Oregon and Florida don't have that.”

The five-yard segments have alternating light green and dark green colorations.

“From the stands,” Haley said, “it's like watching a football game in HD.”

From up close, it invites a step, just to see if it feels as good as it looks.

“Can I please walk on it?',” Hoppe said. “I get that all the time.”

The field and bleachers cost a million dollars. The six-lane track around the field cost a half million. A million and half here, four million there (new fieldhouse), $355,914 there (new basketball court), all of that has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is hanging up in the gym when St. Helena plays basketball.

On the northern wall of the gym hang three jerseys. They are the only three jerseys hanging in the gym, the one otherwise filled to the rafters with championship pennants. A St. Helena football jersey hangs with a No. 72 on it; that's Roger Trinchero's, class of '64. A St. Helena basketball jersey hangs with a No. 42 on it; that's Jim Gamble's, class of '81. A jersey with no number hangs with these words “Clif Bar Family Foundation”; that's Gary Erickson's.

Roger Trinchero is a member of the long-time and quite philanthropic St. Helena wine family who helps run Sutter Home Winery; Roger donated the money for the field and bleachers. Jim Gamble is of the Proctor and Gamble lineage, the Fortune 500 multinational consumer goods company; Jim paid for the new practice gym. Gary Erickson, along with his wife Kit Crawford, developed Clif Bar, the alternative to energy bars; Erickson, a Napa Valley resident, has helped spear-head numerous campus projects including the new track.

“They didn't want their names up there,” Hoppe said. “We had to talk them into it.”

It was easy to understand their reticence. While the three men have been at the center of much of the campus transformation, they hardly did this on their own. City fire chief Kevin Twohey, another St. Helena alum, helped cobble together various entities to fund the $55,000 new weight room equipment. David Wignall, a St. Helena entrepreneur, is heading a committee that will meet with Haley and others this Tuesday to begin planning the construction of a new gopher-free baseball field. Another entrepreneur, Leslie Rudd, has written a million-dollar check to pay for half of the construction of the school's new Performing Arts Center.

“So many people care about this school because generations upon generations of families have grown up here and sent their kids here,” Haley said.

The most obvious example of community support is the football program purchased on game day. It's a slick, full-color 76-page spread with 131 sponsored advertisements.

The least obvious example of community support is the five preferred parking spaces adjacent to the entrance gate at the football stadium. Each one goes for $500. Five hundred bucks to park your car for five home high school football games. The true shock for Hoppe — five parking spots weren't enough. He had more than five people who wanted to pay for those spots.

“I am going to have to increase the number of parking places for next season,” Hoppe said.

To be fair, not all of the $19 million is donated money. Approximately half of it is donated time by skilled contractors in the area and state monies. But good will generated by donors of money or time allowed Haley and Hoppe to muse about what otherwise would be unthinkable for a school with only 525 kids.

I made two corrections. In the original it said Jim Gamble paid for the track--he paid for the new field house and gym. Gary Ericksen built the track. You might also notice that all of these people are against the recall. There might be a reason for that. They worked closely with Superintendent, Alan Gordon to build these projects--another reason why the School board wanted him to stay on as a consultant.