By Patrick Cochran and David Horowitz
Special to S.F. Examiner
Perched atop a hill, George M. Rush Stadium at San Francisco City College normally has the most splendid vistas of the Bay Area: Stretching out behind it is southeast San Francisco, with the Bay and Oakland beyond that.
This week, though, that view has been all but completely obscured. The smoke from the ongoing Camp fire — the deadliest fire in California’s history — has covered the Bay Area in a haze of smoke and ash. That smoke and ash has already forced City College’s football team to reschedule one game — last weekend’s game against rival College of San Mateo — and now, they’ll have to re-schedule a second.
“I was impressed how we played despite the circumstances,” head coach Jimmy Collins said of last week’s narrow loss. “Our players were fine afterwards, no one got sick. Our guys did everything possible to win that game.”
After last weekend’s game was pushed back from Saturday to Sunday because of the terrible air quality, the Rams ultimately lost 32-29, and thus missed the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs. Instead, they were given a consolation bowl game against Modesto at home. Because of the continued pollution, that game has now been pushed back two weeks from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1.
City College was limited in its practice options this week. After an off day Monday, the Rams were outside for just 45 minutes on Tuesday, with the air quality index finally falling to under 150.
“Rest of the time, we were inside the gym but we had to share with basketball and soccer,” Collins said. “We’ve been very cognizant to keep our guys out of harm’s way.”
In the school’s gymnasium, the Rams practiced in full pads, but the surface affected the way the players could cut. Special teams couldn’t practice, because the ceiling was too low for punting and kicking.
“We did good quality work inside. We focused on more mental stuff,” sophomore defensive back Jairus Woodson said. “We were only outside for 45 to an hour, and for me the more I think about the smoke the more it effects me, so I try not focus on it.”
At least the football team still has a game to play. The women’s soccer team, a half game behind first-place Cañada College, was supposed to face the conference leaders on Friday Nov. 9, in the final game of the regular season, with a conference title and playoff implications on the line.”
“We were not able to play our final game of the regular season which would have decided the Coast (Conference) championship,” women’s soccer head coach Jeff Wilson said. “It was deemed the air quality was too poor the plan was to move it to Monday, but the air quality didn’t improve. The state seeding meeting was Tuesday. Game unplayed, you guys take second. So, the top two teams didn’t get a chance to play.”
With a 2-0 first-round loss to Santa Rosa, their season is now over.
For the football team, there is at least some silver lining to the situation: They get an extra two weeks to practice, and bond as a team. For a team mostly comprised of freshman, including standout quarterback Jack Newman, that extra time together is invaluable.
“In football you don’t have many games, one game is 10 percent of the season, so glad this was not canceled,” Collins said. “Another game will make them better players and this extra time helps the program. Keeps us together for a few more weeks.”
This is the second year in a row that fires have impacted the Ram’s season. Last year, their game against Santa Rosa College in September was relocated away from Santa Rosa to City College because of the deadly blazes that engulfed that area. The Rams ultimately won that game 54-7.
“There needs to be some type of rule about fires and cancellations,” Woodson said. “Adding an extra week to the season for makeups would be good.”
“The schools in the north, Siskiyous, Shasta, Feather River, are always at risk of forest fires at the beginning of the year,” Collins said. “It is very unfortunate. I just talked to Butte’s head coach, Robby Snelling, and luckily his family and home are OK. I am optimistic that this won’t always be happening in the future, but I am not an expert, so I don’t know. I hope these fires don’t become the new normal.”