California High School Students Feeling Effects of Fires

Flames and smoke from the Grand Prix wildfire surround the Rim of The World High School in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. AP Photo: Kevork Djansezian
SAN DIEGO--Like a smoldering ember, the anomaly that disrupted life in San Diego last week will linger long after the flames have been extinguished.

Secondary to the lives lost, injuries suffered and homes destroyed by the blitz of blazes that swept the landscape, the region runs into more rippling consequences. Air quality, power lines, water mains, traffic patterns, produce fields, livestock quarters and nature reserves have all been taxed--though none quite as significantly as human emotion.

Standing in the ashy rubble of the remains of his family's home, Ryan Deehan, a senior standout tight end at Poway High in San Diego County, emits a deep, deflating breath.

"This is something else," he says. "You never think it'd look like this."

Ryan's parents, Tim and Susan Deehan, are faced with building a new house and making it a home to their three children Jacqueline, Ryan and Kayla.

The Deehans' home was one of an estimated 1,600 destroyed. Fire damages in San Diego County alone surpass $1 billion. So then, while the effect of the fires on this city's sports scene is no doubt inferior to human tragedies, athletic happenings do not go without record.

The list of professional athletes and local superstars ordered to evacuate was extensive; several lost homes. The Chargers' migration to Arizona last week was well-documented, as was the necessary deferment of the San Diego State vs. BYU football game. The Chargers made a celebratory return to Qualcomm Stadium for Sunday's game, handing the Texans a rout right on schedule, and the SDSU Aztecs are set to make up their encounter with BYU in December.

But one sporting sector--the high school--is stuck with an unshakable side effect this season.

The San Diego County superintendent closed all schools in the district last week. As a rule, teams are not permitted to practice when school has been canceled, so following suit, the commissioner of the San Diego Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, the state's governing body for high school sports, called off all events and said none of the competitions would be made up.

An interesting decision when every game counts, but an understandable one in a world that must fit school calendar and community confines. So although everyone agrees that priority and perspective give way to what's really important right now, some people still can't help but feel frustrated.

"From a football coach's perspective, I obviously don't like the idea of losing these games altogether," said Oceanside coach John Carroll, who is in his 19th season. "This late in the season, these are certainly games that will impact league championships and playoff seedings. If there was any possible way to make these games up, of course we would want to do that, but as of right now, the CIF office in conjunction with the superintendent has made their decision and that is not going to happen."

To get a sense of the magnitude of teams affected, consider the North County Conference in the San Diego Section, which is one of 10 in California. It consists of three leagues--Palomar, Avocado and Valley--that encompass 19 schools. Say each school fields eight fall sports teams, that's 152 teams affected by the blackout.

"It's significant to a season, but it's not the end of the world," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. "I grew up in San Diego and I played at Torrey Pines, so I know how seriously they take their athletics over there. I can understand the frustration of a team like Oceanside. That's a program that produced Junior Seau and dozens upon dozens of Division I athletes. But I'm not sure what really could have been done to get that week back."

Although Carroll's heart applauds what obviously was a tough decision under hurried circumstances, his clipboard reminds him that he's aiming for his fourth straight CIF San Diego Section Division II title.
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