Paradise High Athletics bounces back after Camp Fire

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Paradise High Athletics bounces back after Camp Fire

Photo credit: Karina Cope

Photo credit: Karina Cope

Photo credit: Karina Cope

Photo credit: Karina Cope

Karina Cope

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In the year since the Camp Fire, life has been filled with destruction, loss and sorrow for each person affected by its destruction. However, this one year has also brought reconstruction, community bonding, resilience and strength.

Paradise High Athletics went through a whirlwind last year, from losing key players due to the fire, to making sure the kids had necessities like jackets, blankets, underwear, socks, etc. Only two coaches had kept their homes and most of the coaching staff weren’t back in their homes for eight months.

Coaches were living in their cars, hotel rooms, or on people’s couches with their families. Students, athletes, and faculty members had to start from square one.

Anne Stearns, the athletic director and girls’ varsity volleyball coach for Paradise High School, played a large role in helping students and getting the athletic department back on its feet again.

After making sure the basic needs of each student were met, Stearns started looking into getting uniforms, games and practice facilities squared away.

Both the basketball and soccer season kicked off when the Camp Fire struck last year. After their displacement, the basketball team was forced to practice at 18 different facilities, this included church gymnasiums and even Providence Christian Private High School in Orland.

“A constant facility question just kept on coming up,” Stearns said.

On another note, Rick Prinz, the Paradise High football coach, had a long conversation with Stearns about the football team’s opportunity to play in playoffs. Stearns gave Prinz the option to play or not to play.

“I’m here not to make the decision,” Stearns said. “I’m here to give them all the tools to make whatever decision they want.”

Most of the team’s helmets were lost in the fire, but luckily, Stearns was able to acquire helmets, uniforms, and safety equipment. However, none of these things belonged to the athletics program.

“Just the logistical part of getting kids fitted in appropriate helmets that are CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) certified and making sure all of those things were in place… I was a little concerned,” Stearns said. “But I didn’t let him know those concerns because I just wanted him to make the decision if he wanted to play or not.”

It was a tough decision for Prinz. He wanted to play, but the underlying truth was that no one was around in Paradise. Players were scattered and coaches didn’t feel a sense of security in playing another game. It seemed impossible to focus on football and a playoff run with so much going on.

“It was 100 percent the right decision because we weren’t in the right state of mind,” Stearns said. “We weren’t focused.”

The heartbreaking news was then delivered to the football team: they were no longer going to playoffs.

“First, you lose your town,” Stearns said. “Then you have those things that you’re really fighting for and trying to hold on to, and it (football) was just one thing that they could hold on to.”

However, the disheartening break from playoffs made the team hungry for victory and they came back this season with a 10-0 record. This is the first time the team has been undefeated in a regular season since 2004.

Many athletes did not return to their sport due to displacement and families moving from town to town. Therefore, numbers on the volleyball, cross country, and swim team dropped significantly – by nearly half.

Stearns decided not to do cuts for her volleyball team, since everyone on the team lost their homes and community. She preached family, the importance of connection and being apart of something bigger than yourself.

For volleyball, there is a good window of about nine to 12 girls per team in order to get a good connection and make intelligent decisions for those individuals.

However, Stearns had to look past that when she decided to keep all the girls on the team. She focused on the fact that they could all be together, hang out and have fun.

“It’s not about winning or the numbers on the board this season,” Stearns said. “It’s about the connection between them (the players) and having something bigger to look forward to.”

The surrounding community joined in, giving their unconditional support to the small town of Paradise. Chico Unified School District and Butte College immensely helped Paradise High School.

Not only did the community reach out, but the nation did as well. Major sports organizations such as the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland A’s, the San Francisco Giants, Sports Illustrated and ESPN lent out a hand and put athletics and sports first for kids.

Stearns mentioned how nice it was to connect with like-minded people who knew how important it was for kids to get opportunities to have some positivity instead of negativity in their lives. Everyone wanted to help no matter how big or small their contribution was.

“To go from right after the fire where you feel like you don’t own anything and you don’t have anything, to get back here was such a relief,” Stearns said.

Karina Cope can be reached at [email protected] or @KarinaICope on Twitter.

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