Fight over stadium lighting set aside for North Bay high school football game

A football game in Novato will have some extra sparkle Saturday.  

San Marin High School will play a night game, under state-of-the art stadium lights tied up in court for several years. 

It's a gesture of goodwill acknowledging how student athletes have suffered during the pandemic.  

"Wish we'd had them all along but we're really blessed to have them for the game," Shawn Arnold, varsity team captain.

"When we came in as freshmen, we were told they were being installed and we were super-excited."

The $1.5 million light and sound system is fully operational but unused because of a legal challenge by neighbors.  

They objected to the spillover of noise and brightness so close to their homes and wanted closer examination of environmental impacts.

The case has been making its way through civil court.

"We have had poles in our faces 24-7 and we know it's going to get very loud and lighted," said Mike Joly, who leads the Coalition to save San Marin.  

"We want them to enjoy their fields but we want to enjoy our properties too."

Neighbors got a sample of a night event two years ago, when the school district turned the system on for a big game.

Players and fans were thrilled, but the court case was still pending.

Opponents bristled and the judge in the case said the move was premature.  

But in recent months, negotiations have shown progress, and when San Marin asked for the one-night pass, both the Coalition and the judge consented.

"No one lives at the stadium, no one lives at the school, but we actually live here, " said Joly.

"This is a transition period for us, so we're trying to be understanding and make it work out for the very best."

San Marin's season only consists of five games, and Saturday's 7 pm matchup with Terra Linda is the last home game. 

"A little bit of magic, there's just something about night time sports," said varsity co-head coach Cory Boyd.

"To play in front of their families at night and the community bonding experience, it means a lot to our players and for us to coach it."

Mustangs coaches also hope it signals a more permanent compromise for next year.

"Absolutely it's a good trial run," said varsity co-head coach Dominic Di Mare.

"It is bittersweet for these seniors and juniors who we're going to play this year and we hope for more opportunities down the road."

For COVID-19 safety, the stadium will be mostly empty.

Each player is limited to two guests, and four for seniors.

"We try to make the most out of what we can, and what we have," said Arnold, uncomplaining.

"I feel it was nice of the neighbors, and the community as a whole to give us these lights, the opportunity for one night." 

For all involved, it seems the genuine challenges of the past year put a thorny dispute in perspective.

"Isn't the message of COVID that we are responsible for each other and we need each other?" posed Joly.

"Isn't that really the message of the pandemic? I think it is."