The classrooms at Calistoga High School are empty and dark and the fields and gyms are equally as vacant.
Yes, school is out for the summer. But that doesn’t mean all is quiet on the CHS campus.
The Wildcats’ athletic department and members of the school’s administration are still hard at work as they look to fill a number of open coaching positions. Among the openings are head coaching jobs for the boys and girls varsity soccer teams, the cheer team, the varsity boys basketball team, the varsity baseball team, and the junior high soccer team. The district is also looking to fill several assistant coaching positions, specifically in football, basketball and soccer.
Coaching jobs will be offered to current staff members first before being advertised to the public. But Calistoga Co-Athletic Director Eric Heitz said the district has already conducted several interviews, adding it could have two positions – assistant football coach and varsity soccer coach – filled as early as next week.
“We felt good about the interviews,” Heitz said Monday. “The questions were answered well and they had lots of good experience. So hopefully everything works out for those, but we’re looking for a couple more. But we’ll wait and see how things go.”
Candidates all have to undergo background checks, which are being handled by the Michael DeFrancesco, the director of Educational Services and Human Resources for the district.
If approved, Heitz said, the candidate for the soccer position will have the choice of either the boys or girls job. But Heitz added the candidate seemed more interested in the boys job.
The incoming coach will have big shoes to fill if they do take that position.
Under previous head coach Danny Almanza, who was at the helm for the past three seasons before stepping down early in the spring and moving out of the area, the Wildcats won 44 of their 60 games – a winning percentage of .733 – and made the North Coast Section playoffs in each season.
The girls, on the other hand, are coming off a tumultuous fall campaign that ended early due to a lack of available players. They got in a handful of games early in the season, but lost the majority of their roster due to eligibility issues when grades came out in October.
First-year head coach Dan Blankenship will not be returning to the sidelines to lead the girls this fall.
The positions for the fall sports are the ones on which Calistoga is currently focusing its efforts.
“We’re still looking for an assistant boys soccer coach,” Heitz said. “If this candidate (for boys head coach) works out, we’ll still need a varsity girls soccer coach with an assistant as well, as well as for the junior high soccer team. Those are the main ones for the fall that we’re a little anxious about.”
If the candidate for the assistant football position is also filled, that will cross off another important item on Heitz’s checklist. Football is the first sport that can practice for the high school season, with conditioning slated to begin the first week of August. Varsity head coach Jim Klaczak, who will be entering his second season this upcoming fall, ran spring practices by himself in May.
Heitz said another coaching opportunity has also emerged recently for both the high school and junior high. He said Monday that Calistoga is aiming to bring back the cross country program to both campuses and that, if the program returns, the district will need to start advertising to fill that spot as well.
As a whole, however, progress in the coaching searches has been slow.
“We hardly have anyone applying. That’s the issue,” Heitz said. “We’ve only had a few different applicants and we’ve interviewed all the people that have applied. It’s not like we did screenings and said ‘Oh, we’re going to wait on this one.’ Everybody that has applied has gotten an interview so far.”
Heitz highlighted the fact if people are interested, all positions available to the public are listed at edjoin.org.
“If somebody is interested in looking at it or finding out what the salary is or wants to turn in an application, they need to go to that website and search ‘Calistoga’ and it’ll show all the openings we have currently,” he explained. “When they apply, Louise (Owens, co-athletic director) and I both get an alert, as well as our HR department, and we can try to set up interviews that way.”
As far as filling winter sports positions, things are still up in the air.
Cesar “Shorty” Cruz stepped down earlier in the spring as head coach of both the boys and girls basketball teams. But Ray Particelli, who co-coached each team with him last winter, is staying on to coach the varsity girls.
“We’ll have to decide if we want to bring the JV coach up or if we’re going to look for a new varsity coach or look for both,” Heitz said. “But we’ll work on that probably about the time school gets going, once the other stuff gets taken care of in the fall.”
In the meantime, Jack McMahon will coach the junior varsity boys basketball team this summer in hopes of maintaining some continuity in the program. The varsity boys are looking to build on a successful 2018-19 campaign that saw them make the NCS playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Despite still having openings, Heitz wanted people to know that these seasons will be played next year.
“We want to make sure the kids know there’s a team, and there will be a team no matter what,” he said. “We just have to figure out who’s going to be running each program and who’s going to be helping out and all that stuff. But the fall is the main focus for us because the deadlines are coming up as far as when things are going to happen.
“We’ve got schedules ready, we’ve got fields reserved, we’ve got van requests going – we just have to get a coach now.”
The other opening they’ll work to fill is for a varsity baseball head coach. Earl Caruthers, who guided the team the past two seasons, stepped down last month. According to Heitz, varsity assistant coach Earl Dunkle has expressed interest in staying with the program, but added that discussions within the district still need to be had about how they want to fill that position.
As of publication, that’s the only spring job that needs to filled.
“As far as I know, everyone that coached last year did an intent to return,” Heitz said. “So we’ll wait and see if there are any changes between now and then.”
Heitz said the district would like applicants for any positions to have coached in the past, but added that it’s not a deal breaker if a candidate has not.
“We’d like there to be some experience there, and we want somebody that has the time commitment available,” he said. “Mostly just someone who is familiar with the game and knows how to work with kids and has a desire to help out with the community especially.”