There was no football for American Canyon High School last week. No practices, no meetings.
There was no school, no classes. There was no Homecoming game. The much-anticipated Solano County Athletic Conference game between the Wolves and Vanden was canceled.
There were no Friday night lights. Stadiums were empty and dark up and down the Napa Valley and around the North Bay.
Schools throughout the Napa Valley Unified School District were closed the entire week because of the devastating wildfires that destroyed homes and structures and caused unhealthy air conditions due to the heavy smoke. Justin-Siena was closed as well, along with other schools in the area.
This is traditionally one of the greatest times of the year – the sound of marching bands performing, the spirit and excitement of the school year getting going with football on Fridays, the assorted colors of the different trees, the crisp autumn air.
The past week, however, was so scary and terrifying, with so many fires burning all at once. Coverage of football and all the other sports was not on my mind. It was to try to be as safe as possible. We had the car loaded with personal belongings, ready to go in the case of being told to evacuate.
Waking up and looking to the west and seeing the orange glow from the fires in the early morning hours on Oct. 9 was something that I never could have imagined.
Instead of covering a game on Friday, I went to the grocery store and did some shopping and stayed home. I watched part of the Washington State-Cal game and was on Twitter, checking for updates on games in the East Bay and Sacramento area. I went to bed early.
Over the weekend, I checked in with some of the football coaches to see how they and their teams were doing, how they were dealing with the fires.
“We’re trying to keep everybody’s spirits up,” Wolves’ coach Larry Singer said “I think we’re all going a little stir crazy. We’re creatures of habit – that’s what football coaches and football players are. You have a routine and you want to stick to it. When that routine gets interrupted, you want to get back on to it. In that sense, it’s frustrating.”
Singer and his players volunteered at two evacuation centers last week – at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo, where they cared for horses, and in the gym at American Canyon High, where individuals and families were sent.
Singer and his team loaded bales of hay into his truck and took it around to the different barns. They provided water for the horses and cleaned up around the stalls.
“They didn’t complain about it,” said Singer. “They put in the work and they did it together. It was, ‘OK, let’s go to work, that’s what we’ve got to do.’”
Coach Brandon LaRocco said different groups of the team have been impacted by the fires over the last week.
“Our team is doing OK considering what has been going on,” said. “We have players living in all three counties (Napa, Sonoma, Solano) that have been affected.”
The Braves have not been able to meet as a team since Oct. 7. Many of the players have been out in their communities as volunteers.
“I am proud to see so many of our players out serving in their communities, trying to make a difference,” said LaRocco. “I am also incredibly proud of how many former Justin-Siena football players are serving our communities as firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s, EMTs, and paramedics. We are truly blessed to belong to such a strong community that is always so willing to give back and serve.”
Football takes a backseat in times like this, said coach Dylan Leach.
As a program, Vintage has donated loads of food, drinks and toiletries to shelters and donation centers.
“I’m very proud of our program for the level of help we have been able to supply,” said Leach. “We are empathetic to the losses many have endured yet encouraged by the overwhelming support and togetherness of this very special community and town.”
Two players, in particular — tight end Demitrio Martin and center Jack Odell — have been very involved as volunteers, the coach said.
Martin helped set up the Napa Valley College evacuation center and has volunteered there regularly. Odell has been on several farm animal rescues starting the night of the fires. He has played an integral part in the Vintage farm animal rescue center, said Leach.
“Several of our players were at the farm, unloading flat beds of hay and helping out wherever manpower was needed,” said Leach.
Napa coaches called a meeting with the varsity players on Friday. It was the first time they had met since the fires started
“We did not discuss much football, but rather (focused) on the devastation and uncertainty our city is under,” coach Jesus Martinez said. “It was important for us to look beyond wins and losses. We shared stories and discussed ways we could help our greater community.”
On Saturday, coaches, players and parents spent the day around Napa, helping out at NVC and different emergency shelters, by distributing Powerade that was donated to the program.
“The contact our players had with evacuees, first responders and emergency workers, showed our players our community’s needs in this time of crisis,” said Martinez.
“As a football program, we remain committed to supporting and to volunteering in our community as often as we can. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected with the fire.”
Help from Pittsburg
The Pittsburg High football team has provided support for the Napa community.
According to a report by bayareanewsgroup.com, assistant coaches Bobby Belleci and Mike Orlando drove to Napa, delivering cases of water and canned foods for victims of the fires.
“My coaches had a great idea,” head coach Victor Galli told Bay Area News Group. “It was a good deal, whatever little we could do to help. I know a lot of people are stepping up and doing some different things.”
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, 51 of the 56 Metro Area football games, which were scheduled for Friday, were postponed or canceled.