The Real Problem Facing Novato High Athletics: A Numbers Game


Photo courtesy of NHS athletic director Michele Smith

Hunter Smith, Reporter

In recent years, Novato High athletics have been on the decline for the most part, with the exception of a few select teams. However, in the past, Novato High has produced multiple powerhouse teams that were able to dominate MCALs and go deep into the NCS playoffs.

The reason for this decline is partly because the number of athletes that Novato gets each year is a lot smaller than other MCAL schools. Every year, NHS loses more athletes from recruiting or inter-district transfers. Oftentimes, these athletes are more committed and skilled, providing the reason for transfer in order to play on a better team. 

I have seen this in both varsity football and lacrosse. In both these sports, the other teams’ rosters would stretch as far along the sideline as they were possibly allowed to go, sometimes even 2 to 3 rows back. Meanwhile, our Hornets sideline has never once seen those numbers, fielding more sparse rosters. 

What makes this confusing is that Novato has about 1,450 students which makes it the third largest MCAL school only behind Redwood (about 1,850 students) and Tam (about 1,580 students). However, NHS still receives a smaller percentage of established athletes than schools that are a lot smaller like San Marin (about 1,100 students) and Marin Catholic (about 700 students), who both have competitive sports programs. With the large number of total students at Novato High, more athletes should emerge but somehow that’s not the case.

Perhaps Novato High has simply transitioned into being more of an arts school. MSA is a very popular attraction, bringing in a lot of students from within the district and beyond. Novato High might be more appealing for an aspiring actor, sculptor or filmmaker than a star wide receiver or a dominant power forward.

While Novato High may have a higher student population than a school like San Marin, its athlete count is much lower. Because MSA is included in our overall student body, NHS is placed in a higher division. However, the percentage of student-athletes on campus does not compare to other schools in the county.

This creates a huge problem for Hornets sports teams, especially if they manage to move on to postseason competition. Since divisions are determined by the number of students enrolled in a school, Novato sports teams are pushed into a higher division than they should be competing in. 

Novato’s athlete to non-athlete student ratio is significantly smaller than schools in the same division and would have to play teams with more talented and dedicated players. Being able to move through the NCS playoffs and actually win the championship is a nearly impossible task for most Novato High sports teams at the moment. 

For example, Novato High football is currently placed in Division III for potential NCS postseason, even with a league record of 1-6 and about 24 players on their roster last year. Across town, San Marin High football is placed in Division V and had a league record of 6-1 with about 67 players on the roster. 

Michele Smith, Novato High athletic director, explained what is going on and if anything will be changing. 

“This is actually the perfect time to be talking about this,” said Smith. “Athletic directors from a ton of different schools have been recently discussing whether or not the system for playoffs is effective.”

There is a very easy fix to this problem. Rather than determine a team’s division by student enrollment, it should be based off of the number of athletes that attend that school. However, this would mean that smaller schools with good athletics (like Marin Catholic) would dominate their respective divisions. This necessary discussion continues.