Poor air quality in the Central Valley – lingering in the unhealthy range for days – prompted several local football teams to head out on the road in search of some fresh air.
That included Escalon, which is gearing up for a Friday night, Nov. 23 contest with Hilmar in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 playoffs. The semifinal game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start in Hilmar.
Tuesday, Nov. 20 the Cougars were on the road early, leaving by 6:45 a.m. and practicing from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in Sonora.
“We had been in the gym since last Wednesday, so that was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday,” Escalon head coach Andrew Beam explained. “We needed to get outside, start flying around, practice at full speed.”
Many other coaches were in similar situations, he said, and it turns out that several Mountain teams hosted Valley teams for practices.
Beam said he was in contact with the Central Catholic coach and learned that they were going to Calaveras. Oakdale and Ripon Christian were other Valley teams making practice trips, with Summerville and Bret Hart other Mountain schools involved in playing host to the playoff teams.
“I was able to get ahold of Sonora and we were able to practice there,” Beam said, noting that his Cougars took the field and got a practice in before the Sonora soccer and football teams needed it for their own uses.
Mark Walden, who served as Escalon freshman head coach last year and this year moved up to assist with the JV team, added that it did the team good to get out of the gym and back into the fresh air.
“Kind of knocked the dust off,” he said. “It was like night and day, the difference between the air quality up there versus here.”
He also said the ‘coaching community’ has worked together to help provide the practice space.
“It’s like the Mountain teams helping out the Valley teams,” Walden said.
Beam said he’s hopeful the predicted storms this week will clear up the air and he also said as unusual as it is, if it rains on Friday night, that will be the first game the Cougars have played in the rain this season.
The wet weather could also impact field conditions at Hilmar but Beam said that could actually be beneficial, playing more in to the style of play the Cougars bring to the table.