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Unexpected Home Game A True Community Effort
Escalon varsity football players stand at attention as the National Anthem is played, with a smoky haze in the air and the flag at Engel Field at half-staff in honor of the 13 American service members killed in Afghanistan in a terrorist bombing. Marg Jackson/The Times

The saying “It takes a village” is used in a variety of scenarios – the most recent being the unexpected Friday night home football game in Escalon.

Wildfires leading to poor air quality in San Andreas, where Calaveras High School was set to host Escalon, saw the game relocated to Escalon on Aug. 27 … with very little notice.

But with the community rallying, it worked out and Engel Field was the host site for the non-league JV and varsity contests.

“It was a complete team effort to get the game relocated from Calaveras to Escalon in just a few short hours. I checked with Calaveras on Thursday and they said the conditions were fine; according to them, the air quality was actually worse the previous week,” noted Escalon Athletic Director Nate Bartelink. “We checked with them again early Friday morning and they said things looked good. By 9:30 a.m., the air quality in that area changed drastically for the worse and Calaveras asked if we could start developing a contingency plan to possibly host the games.”

Planning as if the possibility would become a reality, Bartelink said preparations quickly got underway.

“Maintenance began lining the field even before we had confirmation of the game being played at Escalon, just in case. Steve Lewis came in on his day off to help get that done. We quickly got to work contacting all of the people we typically would throughout the week of a home game,” explained Bartelink. “By 11 a.m., it was decided that the game was officially being moved to Engel Field. Escalon Ambulance and Escalon Police Department did not flinch and said they would have their typical crew at the games. The referees were contacted to let them know of the switch.”

Just having the field ready and the various crews was only part of the process, however, as a home game means needing plenty of food and beverages for the crowd.

“Escalon Sports Boosters was at the store stocking up on snack bar supplies by late morning and the EHS volleyball parents jumped at the opportunity to work the snack bar during the game,” Bartelink added. “Our ticket takers committed to being there without hesitation. Our custodial crew did an amazing job, as usual. Nick Caton, our PA announcer, and our chain gang stepped up to fill their roles. EHS teachers and administration provided the necessary supervision during the game.”

For varsity head coach Andrew Beam, he said the team winning a 41-0 decision over the visiting Calaveras squad was just the icing on a very sweet cake served up by everyone involved in the home game effort.

“That’s where we need to start,” Beam said. “We acknowledge our community, our administration, our Athletic Director, every person involved in this just deserves a huge thank you.”

The coach said there “wasn’t even a hesitation” when the unexpected workload was presented; everyone just put their head down and got the job done, allowing the teams to play the games and the fans to enjoy them.

Calaveras brought a sizeable contingent of fans and the turnout was equally as good on the Escalon side, Beam said, with everyone anxious to get out and support the squads.

Among those enjoying the chance to play and get involved in the win was JP Lial, a running back and linebacker.

“Our senior leadership stepped up a lot and we really came together as a team,” he said of delivering the shout victory. “Calaveras was a very physical team, we definitely had to step up.”

Senior tight end EJ Lewis also made his presence felt, pulling in his first two touchdown passes of the season.

“It feels good,” he admitted, with the Cougars allowing no points while scoring a half dozen touchdowns. “We were able to smash it down their throats.”

The shutout notwithstanding, Beam said the important thing was having the opportunity to get on the field.

“This was a typical community effort you would hope to see,” he said, adding that Escalon residents didn’t disappoint. “They came out and were awesome, there was a lot of support.”

Beam said it was also a difficult day in some ways, as the players waited to see if they would be able to put on the gear, getting the go ahead as the air quality was deemed acceptable shortly before kickoff.

“With all of that distraction and uncertainty, the kids did very well,” Beam said.

Look for the full game story and photos in Sports, Page A8.

“It was great to see the community of Escalon come together to help make this game happen,” summarized Bartelink. “It’s been a difficult past 18 months and we wanted to do everything within our power to get this game played for the players and coaches from both schools.”