IF YOU GO
Who: Cardinal Newman v. Rancho Cotate
What: Non-league contest
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Rancho Cotate High School, 5450 Snyder Ln. Rohnert Park
Cardinal Newman High School lost 19 classrooms, its library, main office, counseling offices, and its baseball and soccer fields in the deadly wildfires that have scorched tens of thousands of acres in Sonoma County and killed 23 people since erupting less than two weeks ago.
Approximately 90 of the school’s 620 students lost their homes, according to Principal Graham Rutherford. But that number could go higher. Not all families have been reached.
Still, football coach Paul Cronin had his team out on a practice field Monday. Still barred from accessing the campus, Cronin accepted the offer of El Molino High in Forestville and has been using their facilities for meetings and practices.
While other schools and districts have been canceling practice, Cronin has been calling his kids in.
“I’ve been through tragedy in my life and what people want is they want to get back started. What is the next thing?” he said. “At least when you say, ‘What do you do next?’ you are moving forward.”
Cronin’s philosophy comes from a place of experience. His brother David died in 2008, in the teeth of the playoff schedule. Through that time, Cronin showed up, coached and kept moving forward.
“Everybody can look at it how they want to look at it, but I’ve chosen to look at these situations in my life like, ‘This happened, it’s out of our control, what can we control?’ ” he said.
So, on Oct. 9, just hours after fire blew through campus, Cronin gained access to the school and started his march forward.
He opened every player’s locker, tagged and bagged the contents, packed up practice gear and equipment, and started looking for a place to practice. A place away from the smoke and away from the smoldering campus.
Santa Rosa High offered; so did Piner and local rival Rancho Cotate. St. Mary’s of Stockton, another rival, offered not only field space, but spots in classrooms so Cardinal Newman’s students wouldn’t miss so much class.
“We’ve had an amazing amount of community support,” he said. “We’ve had offers that have been incredible.”
While some schools have reported not knowing if they can field a team so soon, what with school canceled, evacuations just now being lifted and players scattered throughout the state, Cronin said he never had any doubt his team would be ready.
Cardinal Newman is a football school. People asked to come back, he said.
One of those guys was Beau Barrington, the Cardinals’ quarterback. Barrington, a senior, lost his home on Quietwater Ridge.
“It’s the one thing that I have that’s still normal,” he said of football. “People say, ‘Do what you want,’ and it helps me. And it makes my parents somewhat happy to see me doing something that makes me happy.”
Barrington is not alone. Five players on the varsity squad lost both their homes and a good portion of their school.
“This hit our community hard,” Cronin said.
And what makes it harder still is the school can no longer be the gathering place. Even the portions of the campus that were spared are still not accessible. At midweek, school officials still needed a police escort to get on campus.