Typically, scrimmage day allows players the opportunity to put their hard-earned summer football skills to the test, taking on their opponents in full force as a team. For coaches, it represents the chance to see how their teams match up and work out last-minute kinks before the regular season starts.
This year, local teams were denied that traditional preview of the season to come: the opportunity for a glimpse of the future whisked away by a very literal, blinding smoke.
Rob Kittrell, football coach of the Sparks Railroaders and a former area high school player himself, remembers playing in the Scrimmage Saturday games during his own prep football career in the 80’s. For him, it’s a local tradition that spans beyond the scope of memory.
“We’ve always played the Saturday scrimmages,” Kittrell said. “It’s a good chance to see where you’re at against another team, as opposed to just playing against yourself.”
In his 23 years coaching, Kittrell has never started a season without the preseason Saturday match. That is -- not until this season.
The announcement of the cancellation of the annual scrimmage matches for Sparks teams came Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, following a string of WCSD announcements barring outdoor activities for local schools because of high smoke levels resulting from wildfires across the West. In this year’s scrimmage matchups, Spanish Springs High School was paired up against Carson. Sparks was set to play Right of Passage and Reed was poised to take on Douglas at locations across the valley. All three of the tilts were among those cancelled.
“It’s disappointing because the kids have worked hard and this is supposed to be the first event where you get to see their work pay off,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said about the scrimmage cancelation. “You practice five times as much as you play in football … there’s just not as much contact (without practice games). You feel a little bad for the kids and they feel a bit disappointed when they don’t get to play.”
Across the Rail City, coaches were disappointed by the lost opportunity for the scrimmage game. Since it’s hard to remember a year without this particular practice opportunity, they remain unsure how missing the scrimmage will affect their fast approaching season. Still, none of them truly believe that it will pose a serious detriment to future performance.
“You really don’t know what the effect is until you have a chance to compete. At this point, I only know that it’s frustrating that we don’t have a chance to practice for competition,” Reed school coach Ernie Howren said. “As a coaching staff, as a team, would we like to know (how we’d perform)? Sure … But beyond that – we’ll adjust.”
In response to this week’s smoke limitations, area football teams have had to cancel practices or relocate them to their respective gyms in addition to forfeiting their annual tradition. Unfortunately, coaches say, all sports teams are currently facing similar restrictions, so practice time is limited in response to a communal schedule. Not to mention that a gym floor is a difficult place to prepare for an outdoor sport.
A more concerning prospect than the loss of a preseason match is the possibility that the smoke could continue to permeate valley air throughout the next week, further restricting practices and jeopardizing performance for this year’s season openers: which for the Sparks schools, is scheduled to take place next weekend.
“I don’t even want to think about that,” Kittrell said when asked what would happen to the coming season if the smoke continued. “We’ve got to look out for the health of the kids … as frustrating as it is, we’ve just got to deal with it the best we can.”
Despite the unusual playing circumstances, coaches say that players have done an exceptional job of maintaining positive attitudes during indoor practices and remaining optimistic about the season to come.
“I am so happy with the kids' attitude and effort in the gym,” Howren said of the Raider team. “At this point, we’re really testing the kids and I think that they’ve responded well … I’m proud of their mentality and their willingness to adjust.”
With unpredictable fire hazards and fickle weather patterns, valley inhabitants are currently playing a day-to-day waiting game with the ashen smog, hoping for just a glimpse of Nevada’s famed blue skies through the orangey-brown haze. Although coaches may be keeping a more anxious eye on the sky than the average resident, for now, local gridiron leaders are remaining optimistic.
“We’re just going day-to-day. We’ll put an outdoor practice plan together and an indoor practice plan together … and whatever (the WCSD) tells us, that’s what we’ll run with,” Hare said. “Overall, I think we’ll be ready to go … Once we get back outside it will be business as usual.”