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Original Issue

Sporting Chances

TODAY WILL be another 18-hour workday for Anne Stearns as she strains to keep Paradise High's sports teams afloat. Stearns, the athletic director, is working from home in nearby Chico because the school was badly damaged in the Camp Fire that began on Nov. 8, destroying almost 14,000 homes. At least 85 people were killed in the deadliest fire in California history, and it demolished the town of Paradise. "We have 200 athletes at our school," Stearns says. "Four of them have homes."

After changing the diaper of her daughter, Davis, she logs on to her computer, which greets her with dozens of emails about makeup games and open gyms and fields. Her goal, she says, is "to get these kids playing games again, as soon as possible." In a situation like this, she says, "it's not about winning. It's about being on the court. It's about, for 90 minutes or however long the game lasts, not having to deal with it." Maintaining the sports structure at PHS, she says, "is the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think of in the morning, and all hours in between."

Around the same time, football coach Rick Prinz presides over a meeting of P.E. teachers at Buffalo Wild Wings in Chico. The topic: How to hold gym classes at a shopping center. School resumed on Dec. 3, but the "campus" is now a series of unused stores in Chico Mall. Prinz, who was forced to forfeit the Bobcats' playoff game, ending their season, says after the meeting, "We're just starting to get the idea that things are going to be really different." .

When the boys' soccer team drove 90 minutes north for a game against Anderson Union High, it was presented with a set of uniforms—Anderson's road kits from 2017. "Our whole town is gone, from our house to our bank and everything in between," says Paradise parent Jim Fansler, who is smiling nevertheless because his son, Ben, just scored on a 30-yard rocket to put the Bobcats up 1--0. "The only time I haven't seen my son with a glaze on his face is out here."

Paradise midfielder Gabe Price is also one of the area's top cross-country runners. He missed the qualifying race for the state meet on Nov. 8 because he was grabbing what he could from his home before it burned down. But Stearns made some calls and got permission for Price to run the course at West Valley High by himself a few days later to try to qualify.

To Gabe's surprise, several West Valley runners showed up to pace him, invaluable support on a hilly, unfamiliar course. Price finished in 17:12, nearly 30 seconds faster than the minimum time required. He was as grateful for West Valley's assistance as he was for the jerseys and shin guards Anderson High had donated to his soccer team. "The kindness in everyone's hearts, and the understanding," he said after Paradise gutted out a 2--1 win, "it's been amazing to know that our opponents don't see us as just another team to beat."

Prinz witnessed a similar act of kindness when the 49ers bused his players to their home game against the Giants on Nov. 12. Two Paradise players were shopping at the team store when a pair of strangers "walked up to them and said, 'Buy whatever you want,'" Prinz says. The humbled kids didn't choose game jerseys or signed helmets. Says Prinz, "They bought coats."