“It’s decision time,” says Jeremy Balan, founder of San Fran Preps, a high school sports website that covers all thirty athletically competitive high schools in San Francisco.
He's not talking about a nail-biting second half of a soccer game. Unfortunately for Bay Area high school athletes and their supporters, his site needs help to keep up its coverage of prep athletics.
Balan came to the Bay Area two years ago after moving from Southern California, where he worked as a stringer for local newspapers. Once in the Bay, he got a job as a freelancer for the Examiner covering everything from motorcycle races to University of San Francisco baseball.
But a year and a half ago, Balan realized the lack of attention that San Francisco high school sports was receiving.
“No one was covering high school sports in the city,” said Balan. “San Jose, the East Bay, and Marin cover their high school sports well, but there was this void in San Francisco.”
Into that void he stepped, putting his all into a website which now publishes one-to-three stories a day spanning San Francisco high schools, from the Davids to the Goliaths.
“Nobody’s covering San Francisco high school sports on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “That’s what we do. We are a local newspaper, just online.”
The site covers almost every high school athletics -- basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, softball, swimming, track, golf. Besides being the only site of its kind, San Fran Preps allows for fans, followers, friends, and family the ability to comment on stories, providing a valuable community forum. People can have heated discussions over a player they wanted to make the all-city list, or compliment the site for recognizing an athlete and telling his or her story.
Not only has San Fran Preps allowed fans a chance to follow their favorite high school teams and check out the latest standings; it’s a key source of recognition for local talent that goes beyond a mere stat line.
Just ask 18-year old Colombia University-bound Noah Springwater. Springwater, a graduate from SF’s University High School, was one of the top Bay Area basketball players this past season. He was selected to San Fran Preps’s all-city first team this year.
“For players, [San Fran Preps] allows for public recognition that encourages and excites local athletes, while at the same time promoting engagement from fans and students around the city,” Springwater wrote to the Guardian. “Without San Fran Preps, student-athletes are not able to receive the recognition they deserve for their accomplishments. As many students take more pride in their athletics, San Fran Preps promotes the kind of attention that excites the city and keeps everyone interested.”
When the San Francisco Chronicle recently cut back on their local high school sports coverage, San Fran Preps was there to pick up the slack and even boost public interest in high school athletics. Over its year and a half in business, Balan says the site has been able to increase the level of competition throughout San Francisco sports.
“The thing I’ve seen improve over the years was pride and competition. It perks up the players and coaches when they see one of our reporters and know that their game will be covered on our website.”
The site don’t restrict coverage to elite schools like Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory or Saint Ignatius College Preparatory. Smaller schools with populations equaling a fraction of the more well-known athletic powerhouses receive play also.
“If we were to leave, the big schools would get a little coverage, but the smaller schools wouldn’t,” Balan says. “We cover all the high schools, not just the big, popular ones. Those stories need to be told and should be told. Otherwise, they are slipped under the rug. Thirty people covering a professional sports team and writing that story is great, but being able to tell that one story nobody knows about has a certain appeal.”
The first year of San Fran Preps, Balan ran the site without making a dime, living off of his student loans. “San Fran Preps is my baby, something that I created. It’s hard trying to make the site sustainable, let alone a full time job.”
But now, he’s arrived at a crucial moment. Balan is trying to raise money for a seed investment to turn San Fran Preps into a non-profit organization through Kickstarter. He’s confident that he’ll succeed in assembling the necessary funds, if current fundraising levels stay at their current encouraging rate. “If we keep going at this pace we’ll make it,” he says.
“We have put an injection of interest into the community about San Francisco high school sports” says Balan. San Fran Preps has covered buzzer beaters, penalty shoot outs, and walk-off home runs -- but can it make its own last-second shot before the August 15th buzzer sounds? Hint, hint: it might need an assist.
Head to www.sanfranpreps.com for information on how to donate to the site's fundraising drive.