Last winter, when it wasn’t 100 degrees in the shade, I interviewed for this job and things went well. I was put up at one of Hanford’s finest inns and was told to take my time looking over the environs to make sure I was comfortable.
Hanford’s Fox Theater looked charming, the local ice cream parlor was tempting and the downtown quaint. What I failed to notice is the Central Valley does not have an ocean – that large body of salt water off the Pacific Coast that brings cool breezes and fog and makes an automobile air conditioner unnecessary.
Not mentioned either in my job interview is that the Devil himself periodically travels to the Central Valley looking for athletes for his own league Down Under, and I’m not talking about Australia. Then he cranks up the temperature to “Hell on Earth” to see who to draft.
The Prince of Darkness was in mid-season form last week, because it was a record 109 in Fresno on Aug. 29 and an even hotter 112 in Hanford, where the Superior Dairy must have sold a king’s ransom worth of chocolate and vanilla.
The lofty temperatures did not go unnoticed by the talking heads of KSEE, where meteorologist Lauren Wallace’s map of the area was as pink — that mean’s scorching — as her bright dress. She was predicting 75 degrees for Friday morning, 97 for noon and 105 for 3 p.m.
While the balmy temps were tough on us all, it was as if the Devil had aimed his pitchfork directly at the backsides of area athletic directors and scored bullseyes all around. You could almost hear him cackling and saying “Go ahead, hold your precious football games and tennis matches in my cauldron and watch the bodies and lawsuits pile up.”
Just when the Wicked One seemed to have the upper hand, the athletic directors threw a curveball worthy of Sandy Koufax. The Kern High School District suspended all its football games, dozens of junior varsity football games around the Central Valley were canceled or condensed and some non-football sporting events were jettisoned.
At both Selma and Kingsburg high schools, the length of the quarters for the JV football games were reduced and Selma began its varsity game at 8 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m.
At least one guy on Twitter opined that today’s youth is “soft” for not being able to endure the high temps and iffy air quality. But Selma Athletic Director Randy Esraelian probably would have used the stableford scoring system in his football games if it meant keeping everyone safe.
“We did everything we could not to cancel games and we decided to start our football games at 6:30 and 8,” he said. “We modified the quarters in our JV game to six minutes from eight and our football team practiced at 5 a.m. twice this week.”
Regarding criticism that today’s athletes are babied, Esraelian said: “That’s an easy generalization to make, but in the old days, you didn’t have the Air Quality Index to think about and the CIF giving recommendations on the health and safety of the athletes. You can’t take gambles like back in the day when a football player who might have a concussion can run back on the field and play.”
Five miles away in Kingsburg, where the great American decathlete Rafer Johnson once toiled in the hot valley sun, Viking Athletic Director Thom Sembrizki was just as cautious. At Kingsburg, the football teams practiced in the cooler evening temperatures, and the JV football game was shortened, with Sembritzki prepared to shut down the whole works Friday night if need be. Thankfully, it did not come to that.
“It’s not soft, it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We live here in the Central Valley, and when it’s 100 it’s like ‘Oh, it feels pretty good’ but when it’s hotter than that, you know it’s hot. We don’t want to be that school that winds up as the main headline in your newspaper or the lead news story on television because some kid went down.”
To summarize, that’s a prudent job by the athletic directors and also one hell of a nice try by ol’ Beelzebub. Better luck next time, Devil.