Joe Davidson

Camp Fire levels town, leaves football team without season; smoke postpones games

Paradise High School students Kaleb Nelson, Austyn Swartz and Sam Gieg share the field with the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Levi’s Stadium on Monday, November 12, 2018 in Santa Clara.
Paradise High School students Kaleb Nelson, Austyn Swartz and Sam Gieg share the field with the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Levi’s Stadium on Monday, November 12, 2018 in Santa Clara. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The clogging smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County continues to wreak havoc on high school football practices and games throughout Northern California.

But who would dare even complain or label any of this as an inconvenience? No one who has an ounce of compassion, and certainly anyone who can put into perspective the anguish of a leveled town.

Paradise, once a picturesque town of nearly 27,000 in Butte County, was engulfed and leveled by flames with a tragic toll. At least 42 lives have been lost, more than 200 people are still unaccounted for and some 6,700 structures have been destroyed, more than 6,400 of them homes, making for the most destructive blaze in state history.

That’s the real-life element at play here. In other regions across the state that have been burned, high school football games often serve as a needed remedy of calm and normalcy. It happened last year in the North Bay, and earlier this fall in Shasta and Redding.

While 19 North Coast Section playoff games in the Bay Area were pushed from last Friday and Saturday to Monday - and then again to Nov. 17 - Paradise High has no team to rally behind, or a town to rally with it.

The program went 8-2 this season and earned a No. 3 seed in the Northern Section playoffs that were supposed to start last Friday.

With coaches and players learning their homes were lost, Paradise coaches and administrators deemed it wise to fold the season. The school was one of the few structures to survive, and the football field cast a grisly overcast of smoke with the sun burning through over the weekend, according to scores of social media posts.

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Students from Paradise High School share the filed with the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Levi’s Stadium on Monday, November 12, 2018 in Santa Clara. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Red Bluff High was the scheduled opponent for Paradise. In an example of inspiring sportsmanship, Red Bluff offered to forfeit the game so Paradise could continue its season.

The Northern Section in a release wrote, “It was an extremely difficult and emotional decision, but Paradise has decided it is best not to continue with the season.”

Said Paradise coach Rick Prinz to MaxPreps, “A lot of kids lost their homes and a lot of them are scattered around right now, but we’ve heard from everybody. I’ve talked with our administration and our athletic director to see what we can do, but honestly I spent the whole night wondering where my mother was, not thinking about football.”

Camp Fire smoke continues to hover over the Bay Area and much of the Sacramento region. On Friday and Saturday, 39 of 48 Bay Area games were postponed due to air quality concerns.

The only Northern California section to not have any football games postponed is the Sac-Joaquin Section, which includes teams within The Bee’s coverage regions. But many teams could not practice outdoors Monday due to air concerns, and that may continue Tuesday. Again, no complaining.

Area programs from Placer County to Sacramento to Rio Linda to Elk Grove to programs up the Highway 50 corridor spent the weekend collecting donations - food, supplies, money - to send to those in need in Butte County.

The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for the state’s prep sports, will have a conference call Tuesday morning with commissioners of the 10 sections to sort things out and formulate a plan.

It’s quite likely the playoff schedule for the Central Coast, Northern and North Coast sections will have to be pushed back, but with no changes to the Sac-Joaquin Section. It’s also quite likely the CIF state finals will be pushed back a week, from the weekend of Dec. 8-9 to Dec. 14-15.

Water polo and cross country postseason events were pushed back from last weekend to later this week.

The 49ers invited the Paradise program to Monday night’s game against the New York Giants at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and provided tickets for 35 players, eight coaches and 16 cheerleaders. The Paradise team joined the 49ers on the sideline for the national anthem.

Sacramento Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. captures video of Paradise and other Butte County towns that have been ravaged by the Camp Fire.

More sportsmanship - Forest Lake Christian hosted Paradise Adventist Academy in a NorCal Division VI contest in Auburn on Saturday, but the Paradise team lost most of its gear and, in some cases, entire neighborhoods in the Camp Fire.

Forest Lake Christian student-athletes stepped up warmly. They presented their guests with new uniforms - socks, knee pads, shorts, jerseys with the school name. Each Paradise player was handed by Forest Lake Christian players a $300 dollar gift card and gift bags with pillows, blankets, toiletries and more.

Each Paradise player was fed, and no one felt alone or lost. Forest Lake Christian won the match 3-1, but Paradise Adventist players experienced a measure of human decency and compassion, gaining new friends for life.

Volleyball - Cosumnes Oaks lost in a Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal to Oak Ridge but is alive and well as the last regional team remaining in the CIF Northern California playoffs.

As an at-large entry, the fifth-seeded Wolfpack defeated No. 8 Vanden 3-2 on Saturday in a Division II NorCal semifinal.

Cosumnes Oaks this Saturday will play the winner of Monday night’s Los Altos-Aragon match for the NorCal banner. Coached by Lisa Fowkes, Cosumnes Oaks has been led by Ramonni Cook, Amaria Kelley, Dalia Mays, Ella Nerli and Jayhlin Swain.

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: jdavidson@sacbee.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.

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