Standing Apart (By Standing Together) 

At Crockett's John Swett High School, adults remain active in the lives of students. Other schools could take a lesson.

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Students who do participate are expected to show up after school, during vacations, and whenever there is a civic institution or curiosity to celebrate. "Being in the band is like being a part of a family. If you miss a performance it's like not showing up to a family birthday party." Colombo knows that there are parents who show up at football games to support the band, but there are others who might not even notice the musicians at all. "We're out here to entertain, but sometimes we'll finish a set and then we get half a handclap or a single person applauding, but for the kids there's pride in a job well done. When they know they've pulled off a wonderful set, they know they're playing for each other, they're playing to push themselves to do their best."


For some, the fishbowl existence of living in a community where people are all up in your business is reason to get out of town fast. Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong saw a fan at a local concert sporting a red John Swett T-shirt and spoke from the stage, "Hey, that's one of the schools I didn't graduate from!" Among the less successful parts of the East Bay singer's résumé was a freshman year playing football at John Swett. Armstrong once told Sports Illustrated that his first moment on the team might well have driven him into music: "I received the opening kickoff, and all of a sudden these monsters were running after me. I was just running for the fear of God. ... I knew I could play guitar."

School board candidate Jerry Parsons, a graduate of John Swett, says that spending some time in nearby Rodeo wasn't enough to keep the grown-ups in town from knowing his exploits in Crockett. "We rode our bikes to the pool right next to the high school and when we were horsing around the lady watching would yell, 'Jerry, you stop that right now!' And I think back and I'm glad that she was there to watch out for me, a kid who she had no ties to." Parsons is running on a platform to raise test scores and use the high school's auditorium for more community events. "I just think I'm living in the best city in the best place around. And the high school here is the soul of the community."

If John Swett High School is Crockett's soul, then homecoming is All Souls' Night. Parsons, who has no children and graduated more than twenty years ago, is still apologetic that he missed this year's game. "I was in LA for business," he says unhappily. His absence probably was noted somewhere, but should be mitigated by the fact that he did attend the other games this season.

After all, this season is not going to be one to remember. Swett is winless in league play and struggling to stay competitive. New coach Allen Talley is in his second year and still looking to fit in. The fact that he's an out-of-towner is probably not going to ease the transition. The coach looks with some surprise at the scene around his football field. "It's different here," he says, comparing the school to his former one in Marin County. "It's a fun atmosphere — we didn't get the kind of turnout they get here, and this is a pretty small school."

Talley is employed full-time off campus, and some Crockett folk feel that an off-campus coach is not going to cut it. Principal Bob Bass, also in his second year, bristles at the thought. "It is important to have your coaches on staff full-time, but we don't have the luxury to afford that right now. Allen is here afternoons and late into the night and that matters to the students. They recognize when you go out of your way to take part in their lives. Coaching is about building relationships, and our staff has done that."

Still, the balloons and glow sticks surrounding this evening's game against Moreau Catholic High School (also winless) don't hide a general unease with the program's direction. Swett missed the playoffs last year and the only way it's getting in this season is if somebody buys tickets. One player gripes that the team lacks direction and the discipline to compete. "I don't like that it's not organized, like it was before."

During a practice session one night, the varsity players huddled around their end zone waiting for their coaches to arrive and spent almost half an hour watching cheerleaders practice. Tonight the cheering squad is decked out in glitter and ribbons, excited by the large homecoming crowd. Head cheerleader Michelle Bow is going to be extra-hyped tonight — she's up for Homecoming Queen, and if she gets the title, then she can put her crown up next to that of her sister, who won it two years back.

On the sideline, in modified civilian clothes, there's another familiar name: Zampa. It's easy to detect because it's on the back of his jersey. Johnny Zampa introduces himself as the grandson of Al Zampa. That name is familiar because it adorns the bridge that looms behind the field and school.

When the state put up the latest version of the Carquinez bridge in 2003, officials decided to honor a working man. Al Zampa was a natural candidate. An Italian immigrant who left the C&H factory to start building bridges and tunnels, Zampa helped build both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate (which he fell off of and survived). In fact, he lived almost long enough to see the very first bridge he worked on replaced by the one named for him.

While living to be 95, Zampa became an integral part of the city he had helped scaffold: baseball coach, iron worker, and man about town. His sons followed him into the building trades, and now one of their kids plays for the home team.

"My family is definitely still around here; they hang out up on Tightwad Hill," the younger Zampa says, pointing in the direction of the cliff behind his namesake bridge. Is it strange to have the same surname as the road out of town? "Actually, it's kind of cool," the senior says. Zampa has been pretty disappointed with his team's record this season, but he is not at all down on his unique upbringing or his town. Kids in other areas might be a lot more mortified at the endless reminders of the adult world surrounding them than these kids with relatively few consumer goods but an endless glass of history. "I like this old stuff," he says. "There aren't a lot of places like here, I guess."

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