Joe Davidson

Casa Roble has football to play, Paradise High does not. How they’re merging forces

Casa Roble High football coach Chris Horner and the Rams players are giving a hand to the Paradise High football team following the devastation caused by the Camp Fire.
Casa Roble High football coach Chris Horner and the Rams players are giving a hand to the Paradise High football team following the devastation caused by the Camp Fire. Special to The Sacramento Bee

Chris Horner is a numbers guy.

He crunches statistics and data day and night, sometimes even in his sleep, including information about the football team he coaches at Casa Roble High School.

The Rams are 10-1 and loom as a serious player in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, but the real figures that inspire Horner are these: 60, 100 and $25,000.

In order, they represent how many varsity players Horner will usher up to Butte County on Tuesday to visit members of the Paradise High team that has no season to call its own anymore, or even much of a town to call home after it was leveled by the Camp Fire.

The 100 is how many stickers that read “Paradise Invincible” Horner ordered up for his own players and for those at Paradise, which surrendered its season after an 8-2 start in an effort to focus on real-life issues such as finding a place to stay.

The $25,000 is how much money Horner’s football program has raised for fire relief. Casa Roble has in effect adopted the Paradise team as its own to let those players know that the Sacramento region feels their anguish and heartache. Horner said Paradise players can adopt the Rams. Paradise players are invited to join Casa Roble for Saturday’s playoff game at Vanden and to stay at houses of his players and his own.

Horner said he can relate to hardships as he coaches and mentors students at Casa Roble who come from broken homes, some of whom badly need sports as a positive outlet in their lives.

When Horner asked how many of his student-athletes wanted to visit Butte County and to get to know those players, every one of the Rams – 60 in all – said he was in.

“The big thing is we want to go up there and just listen to those kids, let them talk, because we know they’re hurting,” Horner said. “It’s so much more than just football here. It’s going to be powerful going up there to see the damage, to talk to those kids.”

The Camp Fire is the deadliest in state history with 77 killed and nearly 1,000 missing as of Monday morning.

The damage resonates with Horner’s wife, Michelle, whose home town of Santa Rosa was scorched last year by fire. A lot of her childhood memories are gone, including houses and landmarks that she often visited.

A teacher at Trajon Elementary in Orangevale, Michelle got the ball rolling on this Paradise project after raising funds last year for those in need in Santa Rosa.

Butte County has sentimental value to the Horners. They met in the credential program at Chico State. Horner insists she is the star and he is her wingman.

“She was out of my league and still is,” said Horner, a gregarious sort who drops in “dude” in light moments. “She’s way prettier than I am. She wasn’t attracted to me but I made her laugh. She is dashing and I keep her entertained.”

Michelle might actually be the best coach at the dinner table, too.

The Horners have two sons, 13-year-old Braden and 11-year-old Ethan. Michelle coaches Braden’s soccer team.

Horner didn’t expect to coach when he played line for a 7-3 team at San Juan in 1992. Then he got into teaching and that led to coaching.

Horner was the Casa Roble freshman coach for 12 seasons, worked as a varsity assistant for two seasons and then was the junior varsity coach for two years. Before last season, Horner replaced varsity coach Norm Ryan, the winningest coach in program history.

For some Casa Roble football enthusiasts, it wasn’t a popular decision – Ryan’s ouster and Horner taking over – but Horner said he owed it to himself to apply for the job. He has no regrets. This, he said, is his calling.

Last season, Casa Roble went 6-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013. This season’s record is the program’s best since the Rams went 10-3 in 2011.

The goal now is to match the 2008 Casa Roble team in winning a section championship.

But first, real life issues loom in Butte County.

“It’ll be the best thing for our kids to see what’s happened there, and then it’ll be really hard for us to come home and practice knowing (Paradise) lost so much,” Horner said.

For more information on the fundraiser, visit the Casa Roble: Players for Paradise page at app.snap-raise.com.

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