Napa County Fairgrounds

Calistoga football has been synonymous with the Napa County Fairgrounds for decades, but that longstanding tradition has come to an end -- at least for now.

Last Wednesday, the Calistoga Joint Unified School District announced in a press release it would be relocating Calistoga High football games to the field behind the main gym on its campus. The release, signed by Superintendent Erin Smith-Hagberg, did not explicitly say why the district chose to change locations.

Individuals associated with the football program have expressed concerns about the condition of the field at the fairgrounds, saying it suffered from lack of watering. They said the field on school property was much better maintained.

The field at the fairgrounds is located at the infield of the Calistoga Speedway track, which hosted the Louie Vermeil Classic last weekend, and is scheduled to put on the World of Outlaws on Sept. 15-16.

However, school officials said the move was more about elevating school spirit and encouraging a stronger turnout than concerns about maintenance deficiencies at the fairgrounds.

“The school’s administration, players and coach thought that the move to our home field would help increase school spirit and possibly increase attendance at games,” the district said in an email Friday. “We are also concerned about safety because there is some construction at the fairgrounds.”

The Napa County Fair Association has been under fire recently due to a myriad of complaints regarding fairgrounds upkeep and decreasing interest in various events.

But Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore made it clear that the district’s decision is “not related to anything else.”

“Our understanding from the school district is this is something the kids wanted to do for school spirit,” she said. “They want to play their football games at their school, and I think that’s understandable … it’s something that the kids are wanting to do and of course the coach wants to support the kids, the principal and, us at the fairgrounds, we want to support them, too, in that. It’s absolutely fine.”

Moore said the move will last for at least this season, but she gave the district the option to return to the fairgrounds next year if it chooses to do so.

“I think they’re going to at least give this a try this year and assess things at the end of the year and see how that is,” she said. “I think it’s really exciting for Calistoga High School to be hosting their games at home.”

The financial loss for the fairgrounds will be minimal. The district paid the fairgrounds $550 per game, but Moore said “that covers basically the trash bill for it to have their garbage removed, the cost of janitorial supplies and utilities for those games.

“So in the end I think it’s a wash for us because we also won’t have that expense associated with the games. And that’s really all it was. It was a payment to offset our direct expenses.”

The district's savings are also just as small, estimated at “roughly $850. We have to rent some equipment in order to hold games here. Any funds saved will remain in the Athletics Budget,” the district said in an email. The district charged admission for games at the fairgrounds, but games at the high school will be free.

Last Friday’s Roseland Collegiate Prep game, set for 5:15 p.m., was the only remaining home game kicking off at an earlier time because the school field lacks lighting. The district said it plans to “eventually bring in temporary field lighting.”

The school has hosted football games at the high school multiple times before. In 2015, when the fairgrounds provided relief for victims of the Valley Fire, Calistoga moved its game against Rincon Valley Christian on-campus.

Whenever the Wildcats have scheduled a home opener on Labor Day weekend – the same time as the Louie Vermeil Classic – they have played games at the high school, which has been the case three of the last four years.

Calistoga football head coach Mike Ervin has fond memories of watching and playing in games at the fairgrounds, but also welcomes the move, hoping to see the same increases in spirit and attendance the district wishes for.

“I can remember when I was a little kid, I was a water boy for the team Dick Vermeil played and all them played,” said Ervin. “I remember walking from the high school up to the fairgrounds for the game. When I went to school here, the same tradition, and now it’s gone. I understand the situation. We want to have a nice field to play on and we want the community support us, and where else could they support us but our school.”

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Yousef has been a sports reporter at the Napa Valley Register since February 2015, and hosts the Napa Register Radio podcast. He is a proud UGA graduate and has written for the Sacramento Bee, The Advocate and the Athens Banner-Herald, among others.