Benefield: High schools roll with another fall sports interruption
Here. We. Go. Again.
For the third time in three years, fires, smoke-filled air or — in the case of this week, an intentional power shut-off by PG&E meant to curb the chance of wildfires in Northern California — have scrambled prep sports schedules and added a dash of chaos to the fall sports calendar. Coaches, athletes and athletic directors throughout the Redwood Empire are once again thrust into re-organizational overdrive, creating contingency plans for schedules that were in most cases made months ago.
“We have been through this before. It comes with the territory now,” said Greg Alexander, Cloverdale High’s athletic director and football coach.
In 2017, schedules and lives were turned upside down after deadly wildfires ripped through Santa Rosa and beyond. In 2018, it was lingering smoke from the fire that razed the community of Paradise that turned fall schedules on end. Now, it is preemptive power shut-offs by PG&E that have shuttered schools and sent officials scrambling to remake schedules.
“As athletic directors and administrators, we have to be ready to change things on the fly,” said Scott McKeon, athletic director for Technology High and Rancho Cotate High, both of which were closed Wednesday.
No one I talked to Wednesday had anything but empathy for people affected by wildfires, whether last year or the year before. In fact, many expressed concern for their athletes and families that, in some ways, are being forced to confront fire-related traumas yet again. One coach said she has an athlete who just last week moved into her home that was razed by the Tubbs fire, so she is now dealing with yet another round of fire-related scenarios.
“I think we are becoming tolerant of interruptions in our season over the past three years,” Maria Carrillo cross country coach Greg Fogg said, while adding, “I am still in denial. I don’t want to accept this as the norm.”
Fogg and his team were supposed to host the marquee cross country event of the North Bay League-Oak Division season at Spring Lake Wednesday. The league season opener, it was to have pitted the Pumas against Santa Rosa as well as Montgomery. In fact, in the wake of Santa Rosa City Schools’ announcement that Maria Carrillo would be closed Wednesday for lack of power, Fogg thought he had it solved by midday Tuesday.
North Bay League Commissioner Jan Smith Billing confirmed that students were allowed to participate in sports even though there was no school for some.
“… a student who is not in school all day may not practice or play, but in this circumstance, because some of our schools were closed, that rule does not apply,” she said.
So coaches were consulted, athletic directors made calls — and it was cleared for the meet to go on at the park. Then Sonoma County officials called — Spring Lake facilities would be closed.
Another round of calls and texts ensued — this time, it was final: No meet.
“We try to get amped up for NBLs. Our focus has always been league competition and showing well at league,” Santa Rosa coach Carrie Joseph said. “We build up the NBL season, then we can’t start it. It feels deflating.”