High school football games involving St. Helena and American Canyon scheduled for this weekend have been canceled and postponed to Saturday, Nov. 24, due to poor air quality, the CIF North Coast Section made official on Friday.
The Mercury News reported Friday morning before the postponements were announced that the NCS was weighing whether or not to move the games north to the Eureka area, where air quality is much better.
The air quality index (AQI) in the Bay Area was considered anywhere from “very unhealthy” (AQI scores of 201-300) to “unhealthy” (scores 151-200) on Friday and isn’t expected to improve until next week. A score of 151 is the cutoff for what the NCS considers safe playing conditions.
In a text message to NCS athletic directors, section Associate Commissioner Bri Niemi said that the section was unable to come to a consensus about which teams could realistically make the hours-long trip north and that because of that, decided to just push the games back another week.
“Because we were not able to get consensus across any one bracket, we will not be moving forward with games in the Eureka area on Monday, nor will we be continuing our day-to-day postponements, as there is too much involved with the unknown air quality, team travel, officials availability, the Thanksgiving week and schools out of session,” Niemi wrote.
“All quarterfinal games that have not been played yet will be pushed back to Saturday, Nov. 24.”
St. Helena is the seventh seed in the Div. 5 bracket and is slated to face No. 2 seed Salesian. That game is now scheduled for Nov. 24 at 1 p.m. at Salesian’s Richmond campus. The Saints played their last game on Nov. 3. Salesian will have had even more time off, having earned a first-round bye. The Pride last played an official game Oct. 27.
American Canyon is the eighth seed in Div. 2 and will play No. 1 seed Rancho Cotate at 7 p.m. Nov. 24. Originally scheduled to square off Nov. 10, the teams have only practiced since their first-round games two weeks ago.
Also pushed back to 7 p.m. Nov. 24 is the Div. 1 quarterfinal between No. 4 San Ramon Valley and No. 5 Monte Vista, the winner of which is slated to host No. 8 Vintage on Dec. 1.
They are the latest in a slew of postponements that began several days after the Camp Fire exploded in Butte County on Nov. 8. As of midday Friday, the fire has claimed 63 lives, destroyed 11, 862 structures, and burned over 142,000 acres. The thick smoke from the fire has blanketed the state and has made the air almost unbreathable in the Bay Area. A majority of schools in the area closed on Friday as air quality worsened to level that some outlets reported as the worst in the world.
NCS Commissioner Gil Lemmon released a letter title “Unprecedented Times” on Friday morning addressing the ongoing situation just before the postponements were announced, in which he called this fall championship season “one of the most challenging championship seasons of our 105-year history.”
In the letter, Lemmon addressed the tragedy in Paradise, the community that bore the brunt of the Camp Fire devastation, in an effort to urge people to not forget about the “life and death” circumstance surroundings these events.
“Within our own section, we have many who can identify with what people in Northern California are going through, since it was just within the last two years that several NCS communities experienced the same,” Lemmon wrote.
“As we move forward in the coming days and weeks, let us rejoice in how blessed we are, how lucky that our only complaint is delay of our opportunities to experience a NCS Championship contest. Some have already taken place, even yesterday. But more than likely, delays will occur. There will be more challenges, but we will get through this difficult time.”
If postponements persist next week, the NCS has a contingency plan in place: section champions and NorCal qualifiers in divisions 2-5 would be decided by a coin flip. The exception would be if two teams had already played each other this regular season, in which case the winner of that matchup would automatically advance. Division 1 does not have such a plan in place, since it does not send a qualifier to NorCals.
St. Helena head coach Brandon Farrell said that while the situation is “difficult,” his team is fully committed to finishing the season, no matter how that happens.
“Every one of our kids wanted to play and they couldn’t wait,” he said. “It is 100-percent committed that we will play and put our best foot forward this week. … It’s a difficult situation. Knowing the tragedy up in Paradise and knowing that there are many things out of our control, I’m really glad that we have as supportive of a community as we do.”
Farrell added that he and Salesian head coach Chad Nightingale had been in constant contact this week trying to get the game played this weekend.
“We were 100-percent trying to get this game in and we didn’t care where we went,” Farrell said. “We were doing our best to provide the section with the best options we could and we’re excited about playing each other. ... We just want these kids to be able to participate and we are glad we still get a chance to play them, that’s for sure.”
On the other side of the valley, American Canyon head coach John Montante found a silver lining to the latest decision to reschedule.
“It’s great to be practicing Thanksgiving week and playing meaningful football in November,” Montante said.
He’s mainly relieved that there is now a set schedule and not the constant day-to-day changes and delays that have been happening over the past week.
“Now we can establish that rhythm and we can be prepared for our game instead of being prepared then having it pushed 24 or 48 hours and then waiting to see if anything else happens,” he said. “It’s good because we can reestablish rhythms, reestablish routines and knock some of that rust off.”