Paradise High School on the road to Recovery


Paradise High School remained untouched despite buildings around it being destroyed by flames. Photo credit: Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

The first week of November was a crucial time for Paradise High School athletics: the football team was ready to take on their first playoff game, both soccer teams and the wrestling team were on the verge of qualifying for playoffs, and the basketball teams were getting ready to kick off their season.

The student-athletes never imagined waking up one morning to the tragedy that vigorously burned the football team’s playoff spot to ashes.

Paradise High School Athletic Director Anne Stearns has helped carry the weight of a natural disaster for her student-athletes. Photo credit: Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

“That was emotionally draining to tell a football team that had made it to playoffs, that had worked really hard to get to playoffs, that they couldn’t play anymore, “ Athletic Director of Paradise High School, Anne Stearns said.

When the Camp Fire occurred Thursday morning, Nov. 8, 2018, the first task for Stearns was to inform California Interscholastic Federation and Red Bluff that they were no longer able to continue with the season.

“We were really mad because we had been looking forward to that game-that was our first playoff game the next day,” starting quarterback for Paradise High School Colby Cline said.

In the blink of an eye, the athletes’ lives had been put on hold, losing their home and their chance at the title.

As the Camp Fire reached national headlines as the deadliest fire in California history, it caught the attention of the San Francisco 49ers who invited the varsity football team to attend “Monday Night Football,” as guests on the field.

paradise yo.jpg
Members of the San Francisco 49ers stand with members of the Paradise High School football team, on the sideline, prior to the game against the New York Giants at Levi’s Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

“They brought light to the situation and we were able to have fun together which was all we really wanted,” Cline said. “We want to be together and have fun, it was really nice to do that.”

The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings also reached out to Paradise’s basketball teams and hosted them in their games.

Locally, Chico State reached out to the basketball teams and donated Acker Gym as their home court to kick off their season opener. Chico High School stepped in as well, letting Paradise athletes use their facilities to continue preparing for the season.

“The community involvement and the fact that Chico State, Butte College, PV, Chico, I mean you name it. Tons of churches too were opening up their facilities for us. That part was awesome: the community was great,” Stearns said.

Paradise High is intact while around it is nothing but the remains of buildings and homes. Photo credit: Ricardo Tovar

Even with the community and national effort many of the victims still struggled and continue to do so, many have no permanent place to call home. Around 90 percent of Paradise High School students lost their homes according to Stearns.

“For the first two months I was in a hotel, and it’s not fun to be in a hotel for two months. Maybe for a weekend,” Cline said. “Everyone has a situation like that. A few people are settled, but it’s hard not knowing where you’re gonna be in a month from now.”

Paradise High School miraculously remained untouched by the unforgiving flames that took most of the town, but they remain unable to use their own facilities because of water contamination.

Paradise High School gymnasium unbothered by the flames that took out much of the city. Photo credit: Ricardo Tovar

“We want to go back tomorrow but at the same time we want it to be cleaned up as much as possible,” Stearns said.

Student-athletes still have no permanent practice facilities and have to start as late as 5 p.m. to use local facilities to practice. A permanent school building is also an issue and they are currently attending classes inside a former Facebook operations center near the Chico airport, along with their fellow peers.

The constant instability has brought the athletic teams closer and has formed a sense of home within each other, creating lifetime bonds.

“We don’t see each other as much because we are not in the middle of football season but we still know that we are all brothers and that we can always go to each other for anything,” Cline said.

Inspirational posters line the walls of the temporary Paradise High School facility. Photo credit: Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

It has been three months since the Camp Fire, and the damage it has caused continues to unravel. Paradise High had a strong come back through their athletic performance, the men’s basketball team and both soccer teams have made it to playoffs.

Regardless of the unstable practice schedules and locations, the athletic teams have embodied the Butte Strong mentality.

Lucero Del Rayo can be reached at [email protected] or @del_rayo98 on Twitter.