Video: Shasta highlights vs. Marin Catholic
Wolves went from a NorCal win in December to battling the effects of the Carr Fire in Redding.
The players from the Shasta (Redding, Calif.)
football program met Thursday on what was to be their first day of practice. All three levels gathered in a classroom, but football was likely the furthest thing from their minds.
When the Carr Fire broke out 10 miles west of Redding on July 23, no one expected the blaze to turn toward town. But three nights later, it took dead aim at west Redding and the neighborhoods where many Shasta players live.
By July 27, the damage to the west side of town was unimaginable. Entire neighborhoods had been burned and leveled. A "fire tornado" blitzed its way through one area, creating its own weather and leveling everything in its path. The school was spared, but it will take months, years and perhaps even decades for the community of 91,000 residents to recover from the sixth deadliest and sixth most costly blaze in California history.
As of Wednesday, the Carr Fire was 47 percent contained, had burned 173,522 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed seven people.
When the Shasta football players met, it wasn't to talk blocking or route-running. It was to take stock in each other, to tell their stories from that horrific night and just to be back with one another again.
The last time they were together was during the Wolves' state title run that included the first CIF Northern Section title in 29 years and an improbable 40-27 NorCal Regional Division 3-AA title win over Marin Catholic.
At Thursday's meeting, nearly all the players stood when asked by coach JC Hunsaker who had been evacuated. Nearly half remained standing when asked if they knew someone who'd lost a home in the blaze. A handful of players in the program were among the more than 1,000 whose homes were reduced to ash.
"As you see, all of us have been impacted by this fire," said Hunsaker, who evacuated from his residence along with the majority of the Shasta coaching staff.
In the grand scheme, football would seem to be way down the priority list. However, many around Shasta County talk about wanting to regain a sense of normalcy. Sports can be that bit of normal, Hunsaker said.
Last October, several Northern California schools from the Santa Rosa region — approximately 225 miles apart — suffered through the Tubbs Fire, the state's most destructive on record.
One school, Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
, was 50 percent lost by the blaze, which claimed 25 lives, destroyed more than 5,550 structures and caused an estimated $1.2 billion in damages.
Newman's boys and girls athletic programs bonded closer than ever and made a season-long credo: "Play through the burn."
Newman's football team made it all the way to the North Coast Section finals and lost to Marin Catholic 59-56 in one of the most memorable section title games ever played. Many teams persevered to win league and even section titles. The Newman girls soccer team won a NorCal title.
Newman's all-time leading basketball scorer Maiya Flores, who led her team into the NorCal Open Division tournament, lost her home in the Tubbs Fire. She said in March: "It made our school so much closer. It's awful that it happened, but we're definitely all more grateful to just be here together."
The Carr Fire and its aftermath are far too fresh for Shasta students-athletes to grasp that perspective. But Hunsaker is confident that his football squad will help pull the campus closer.
On Wednesday, members of all three levels spent the morning after practice volunteering for an organization that cooks and delivers hot, gourmet meals to fire evacuees as well as front-line fire personnel.
And while Shasta was in the Carr Fire's bulls-eye, most schools in Shasta County have been forced indoors for practice as lingering smoke makes outdoor practices unhealthy.
"We will get through this with each other," Hunsaker told the players.