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Fires Force Football Teams Into Limbo

With devastating wildfires raging up and down the state, high school football throughout California has taken a backseat to health and safety concerns. For the local Santa Clara teams, having their games postponed is a minor inconvenience compared to the Paradise High football team. The Bobcats ended up forfeiting their playoff game against Red Bluff as their entire town of Paradise tragically burned to the ground.

The San Francisco 49ers reached out to Paradise High School over the weekend, inviting the school’s football team, including coaches, players and cheerleaders to their Monday Night Football game at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 12. Not only did the 49ers offer free tickets, but they sent buses up north for the transportation, and provided sideline passes for the Paradise players to take in the National Anthem on the field with 49ers players.

“That was really classy, a real gesture by the 49ers,” said Santa Clara Bruins Running Backs Coach Pedro Martinez. “It’s just so sad that Paradise was forced to forfeit their football game. The team they were supposed to play even offered to be the ones to forfeit, but Paradise elected to let them continue on. It’s tough, obviously Paradise had a lot more than football on their minds.”

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“That was really cool of the 49ers, you could tell those [Paradise] kids were really excited,” said Wilcox Head Coach Paul Rosa. “I happened to be at the game, so I saw them on the field live and then saw highlights of them running out onto the field. That was cool.”

Both Santa Clara and Wilcox coaches admitted that the postponed games were frustrating, but that they are the lucky ones. While their games were pushed back twice, from Friday to Monday and then again from Monday to Friday, they know they will eventually participate in the playoffs.

“It’s been tough for everyone, but obviously our issue is minor compared to what’s really going on around the state,” remarked Bruins Head Coach Burt Codera. “We could complain about and be frustrated, but big picture, people’s lives are being devastated. The whole town got burned down in the most devastating fire in California history. It’s hard for us to complain when you really sit back and think about it.”

“It’s rough, but certainly a lot of people are going through a lot rougher times than we are,” echoed coach Rosa. “You try to tell the team that and that they understand it’s a privilege that we’re not going through that and we are still going to play a game. It is still somewhat tough for our kids though. You’re usually in a weekly rhythm and now you’re just looking at the internet screen seeing what the air quality is going to be like. It’s extremely unpredictable based on the wind.”

From speaking with the coaches, it sounds as if neither Santa Clara nor Wilcox have any team members directly affected by the wildfire devastation. Even still, the news of the fires have been tough on the local athletes knowing what their fellow high school football players are going through up north.

“Prayers go out to the people up there,” responded Wilcox quarterback Alex Adame when asked about the fires. “I feel bad for that football team having to forfeit their playoffs. It sucks. We just have to be thankful that we still get to play. Getting our games delayed isn’t anywhere near as bad. It’s frustrating for sure, especially getting cancelled at the last minute, but we have to be grateful for being able to play.”

“On the positive side, it has been amazing to see the various communities come together in support of one another,” noted Bruins wide receiver Joseph Hernandez.  “But it’s absolutely terrible that those people up there are having to now worry about where they are going to stay at night.”

As both schools attempt to keep their players ready for their first round games, the postponements of the first round matchups have had some tangible impacts on the field. The Bruins acknowledge that the extra time off has helped some of their key players recover from injuries.

“The positive side for us with the extra time off is to rest injuries,” acknowledged coach Martinez. “Kids healing up from minor injuries is great, but with this layoff we have to get the kids back in game mode after a lot of time off.”

Wilcox meanwhile could potentially be disadvantaged going into the second round if they advance. The Salinas team they would face, if they beat Piedmont Hills, is already waiting for them as their first round game was not postponed. Salinas essentially has an extra week to prepare for Wilcox, who is the odds on favorite to beat Piedmont.

“It’s definitely an advantage,” remarked coach Rosa on Salinas already waiting for them in the second round. “It’s nothing that anyone could have prevented, I don’t think. I wouldn’t blame anybody for it. It’s just something that happened. But anytime you get a bye week or two weeks to prepare for a team, it makes a pretty big difference.”

While Wilcox already knows that a win Friday will place them in a second round matchup with Salinas, a win for Santa Clara would pit them against either their El Camino League rival Mountain View or Burlingame.

There is still a possibility that Friday’s games will again be cancelled. The air quality index in San Jose as of Tuesday was still 155, which is considered unhealthy. Wilcox was cleared by their principal for full practice on Tuesday, but Santa Clara’s was limited to just a walk-through practice by their principal.

Sooner or later, the Santa Clara games will be played. The same, regrettably can’t be said for the Paradise Bobcats, a team that was 8-2 and the third seed in the Division II bracket of the Northern Section playoffs.

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