MODESTO — Count high school football as another part of normal life put on hold for hundreds of young Mother Lode athletes because of the Rim fire.
Poor air quality has forced closure of Summerville and Sonora high schools at least through the end of the week, with the added suspension of all athletic activities, including practices. Neither school has conducted a football practice since last Thursday, although Sonora on Tuesday was given the go-ahead to hold afternoon football workouts indoors.
Farther north on Highway 49, Bret Harte High in Angels Camp suspended all athletic practices on Tuesday because of the poor air quality.
Summerville and Sonora do not open their seasons until next week. Summerville is scheduled to host Mariposa on Sept. 6, the same day Sonora is set to host Turlock. Bret Harte is scheduled to open this Friday at Ripon, and as of Tuesday afternoon Bret Harte officials had not contacted Ripon in an effort to postpone the game.
Summerville coach Ben Watson was waiting for the go-ahead to take his team to a scrimmage Saturday at Kennedy of Sacramento, but Sonora's scheduled scrimmage Thursday at Hughson will not happen because Sonora's buses have been reserved.
"Thursday won't work because all our buses are on evacuation standby," said Sonora coach Bryan Craig. "All of the buses have to be ready to go on a moment's notice so they're not going anywhere."
Bret Harte is the high school closest to the fire and the one most impacted by the smoke. Its opener against Mariposa could be impacted, according to coach Ben Watson.
"Mariposa said they'd be willing to host the game if that's the issue," Watson said. "But I would imagine that if we're not practicing by Tuesday of next week the opener is in danger. That also would mean we wouldn't have Saturday's scrimmage, and that would be a difficult situation to put these kids in.
"If we don't scrimmage Saturday, well, how many teams can have two practices after having two weeks off and then play?"
According to Watson, a large percentage of the Bears' roster lives within the advisory evacuation zone, giving the players and their families a lot more to worry about than football practice.
"This morning was probably the worst day in terms of air conditions," Watson said. "The air quality is just bad. You get sick from the smoke just from a lay person's aspect, never mind trying to work out in it. This whole situation is disturbing for everybody, because there's no set end in sight."
Craig, who has several players from the Pine Mountain Lake community near Groveland, said no football coach wants to be in the position of asking families in these dire situations to make sure their kids come to football practice.
"It's always family first," Craig said. "On the other hand, football is a good distraction and I'm finding that these families want their kids at practice instead of staying home and being worried all the time."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
Coming Thursday: The Bee's high school football preview.