PARADISE, Calif. - The Camp Fire wiped out over half of Paradise High School's population. It raised questions on how the Bobcats athletic's program would move forward.
"We didn’t know who was going to come back to the high school when we started at the airport school," said Athletic Director Anne Stearns. "We were projecting 18-20 kids being on the varsity team. We didn’t know if we would even have a [junior varsity] team.”
This was the case for all of Paradise's twelve program. But, over several months the Bobcats made their way back to the mountain.
"To have them all come back, or most of them come back," said Head Football Coach Rick Prinz. "There’s still some guys that we miss... we’re sorry they couldn’t be a part of it with us, but we totally understand."
These athletes make up nearly 90% of Paradise High's student body. A number that bodes well for a football town.
"Right now we have just under 300 boys at our school and almost 100 football players," said Prinz. "So that’s a pretty high ratio and I think its really important for our school to have a great athletic program."
He believes it will keep them coming back and attract even more. Although they were able to fill every varsity and junior varsity roster this season. Paradise High still encountered some roadblocks.
“Since the fire, everything has been one step at a time. There’s so much change in everything. Not only on the football field, but in all of our lives," said Prinz. "We just have to be flexible and see what it is, and when it all shakes out.”
The Bobcats football team is now in the running for the Division III playoffs after participating in an independent league this season.
They may have even found a place in the Sacramento Valley League next season.
“We don’t want to play schools that are about 2,000 students because we’re looking like we will be at 500 again, 500 to 515 is what we’re looking at," said Stearns. "Our senior class is the largest and when they leave the eighth graders that are going to be freshman is going to be a smaller class.”
A smaller class impacts Paradise High's funding and hinders their ability to rebuild what was lost and damaged in the Camp Fire.
“The unfortunate thing is all of this was approved through the bond, but because of the fact that we’re going to have only 200 homes in Paradise, the funding will take about ten to fifteen years to see a turf and see those things."
So, the Bobcats created a booster club to help cover the needs of their athletes.
"We have all these great ideas, it’s just one of those things where we have some money and we're just trying to figure out the best ways to use that money," said Stearns.
That includes a new softball field that was hit the hardest. With some help from their insurance and Sierra Pacific the field is expected to have new ramps, dugouts and much more.
“There’s been a huge overhaul and a couple of architects have come in, so the softball field has been amazing," said Stearns. "It might take a couple of years, but the field is going to be ready for the season, which is really exciting."
As for the new sports facility that was supposed to break ground in September, it's still pending. But when it does go up, Stearns says athletes and the entire community will have much more room and resources to excel.
“We’ll end up starting to do basketball tournaments, volleyball tournaments, and wrestling tournaments because of the fact that we’ll have more facilities," said Stearns. "For us it’ll just be a way for us to engage the community and then maybe even be able to rent out the facility to the community, too.”
"We’re a family," said Stearns. "We connect in any part of time. The fact that we’ve had the power out and there’s people here all the time hanging out, its just one of those things that you know the high school is the heart of the community. It’s a sense of normalcy."
“I would just liked to say how much we appreciate the support of everyone and all the positive comments," said Prinz. "It's really great and I think it’s doing great for our school."
The Bobcats hope to also introduce sports like field hockey, lacrosse and boy's volleyball as well as bring back snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.