Calistoga High might have three potential playoff teams, but sports are far from a priority right now.
Once the Tubbs Fire hit Mount St. Helena and came within two miles of the Upvalley community last week, it was reduced to a ghost town on the frontlines of the firefighting effort. Calistoga underwent a mandatory evacuation that persisted for the better part of five days, forcing residents to cram into evacuation centers across the region or the homes of nearby family and friends.
When evacuation orders were lifted Sunday afternoon, Calistogans slowly started returning home and assessing the aftermath. For some in the northern areas, they found rubble and ash.
Calistoga Joint Unified School District is hoping to resume classes on Monday, Oct. 23, and that’s the earliest Calistoga High’s two soccer teams and varsity volleyball team could be in uniform competing again. With so many communities in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties affected by wildfires, Coastal Mountain Conference commission Robert Pinoli decreed that if a school isn’t in session, it can’t play a game that day. It’s as simple as that.
“It’s strictly up to the individual schools and air quality,” he said on Wednesday.
On the other end of the Valley, Calistoga Junior-Senior High School athletic director Karen Yoder was hunkered down at home as the larger Atlas Fire left her family without power, gas and little cell service for multiple days.
After seeing the devastation reach both her adopted home of Calistoga and her actual home in Napa, Yoder’s foremost focus is on facilitating the recovery process.
“It was just a very intense situation, and we still don’t have all the pieces of how this has affected the Calistoga community,” she said on Monday. “We’ve heard bits and pieces of who it has affected but (it’s hard to be exact) until we are actually in those peoples’ presence to confirm and/or ask what their needs are. I think that’s something I’m really looking forward to – to be back in Calistoga and find out how we can help. I think that’s something that’s very important.”
The football season came to an abrupt end for the Wildcats last week. When the Stuart Hall game originally scheduled for Saturday in San Francisco was canceled due to the wildfires, their campaign officially ended since Calistoga was already eliminated from North Central League III playoff contention.
The ‘Cats lost to Rincon Valley Christian and Branson the first two weeks of NCL III South play, and beat only Tomales, 86-56, in their homecoming game on Oct. 6. Only the top two teams from the North and South qualify for the playoffs, so Calistoga ended the year 5-2 overall.
However, varsity volleyball and boys and girls soccer were all in the playoff hunt before wildfires rocked the region.
The boys soccer team was in the thick of a league championship chase, trailing rival Roseland University Prep by one game, a 3-2 loss in Santa Rosa in their head to head matchup in September. They were scheduled to meet again last Wednesday at Logvy Park, but obviously that game never happened.
The Wildcats, if they choose to dive back into the schedule, will travel to Rohnert Park to play Credo on Monday, and host RVC and Sonoma Academy on Wednesday and Friday to close out the regular season.
That’s a tall order, though. Without any practice time logged the past two weeks, it’s hard to expect the entire slate of games to get played.
“Schools have been out so long, they’re going to want to try to get kids conditioned again – get their legs and stuff back under them,” Pinoli said.
For Yoder, that circles back to the mental state of her student-athletes. Although on Wednesday she confirmed that all three teams wish to pursue the playoffs.
“We really want to be mindful that our students are back in their beds and rested and are getting any type of services they need from just the transition of being displaced and evacuated – making sure that mentally they are in a good spot to compete,” Yoder said. “That can be very stressful, and that’s what my biggest concern is right now.”
The varsity volleyball team has a trip to Covelo to play Round Valley Tuesday, and will host Geyserville on Senior Night next Thursday. With an 11-7 overall record and two games above .500 in league, a playoff berth is on the horizon.
The Lady ‘Cats girls soccer squad has a winning record both overall and in league. They’re scheduled to play three home games next week – Monday against Credo, Wednesday against St. Vincent, Friday against Upper Lake – to end the regular season.
Considering the underwhelming records of their peers in the Division 3 standings, they’re also in a prime position to return to the postseason for the second straight season.
“So many factors to really weigh in and just to be extremely sensitive but yet still support their dreams and aspirations of going to postseason,” Yoder said. “So it’s a balance. You really have to make sure you take a step back and weigh everything. We will not try to cram in all the games that are lost. That doesn’t support the student-athlete. We don’t need to pull them every single day out of class.
“So when the students are ready and the air quality is sufficient and our competition is back in session, then we will resume when our athletes are ready. That’s the best thing is we can do at this point, is to really support them.”
Pinoli echoed Yoder’s sentiments, saying “sports is one of the last things we should be worrying about,” but added that if, and when, they resume, they’ll be a welcome distraction.
“Sports plays a big part in communities,” he said, “and sometimes it’s great to have a sporting event go on to give … people a chance to take a deep breath for an hour or two and watch a sporting event. It kind of gets their mind cleared a little, you know?”