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 superfluous.
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. And, yes, that was indeed Lucifer by the side of highway 198 playing a fiddle of gold and doing a jig.
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 bulls-eyes 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 at the serpent. The Kern County 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.
Better-safe-than-sorry strategies were standard throughout the Hanford Joint Union High School District, said Hanford West High athletic administrator Nichole Mendes.
“We moved back our practice times,” she said. “We canceled our JV tennis matches to utilize later start times and lights and we canceled cross country events and practiced in the gym and weight rooms.”
The Huskies also delayed their varsity football kickoff and had an athletic trainer available to all teams and coaches.
Laton High caught a break because its football game was at Coast Union of Cambria, close to the ocean. The Mustangs did make some allowances last week, though.
“The heat forced the football team into an extra film session/later practice and one day in the gym to work on whatever they could,” Laton athletic director Travis Bernard said.
At least one observer on Twitter opined that today’s youth is “soft” for not being able to endure the high temps and iffy air quality. But Kingsburg High athletic director Thom Sembritzki, formerly the A.D. at Lemoore and Dinuba high schools, was another who erred on the side of caution.
Viking football practiced in the cooler evening temperatures and the JV football game was shortened, with Sembritzki prepared to shut down the whole works Friday night against Golden West if need be. Thankfully, it did not come to that.
“It’s not soft, it’s just the right thing to do,” Sembritzki 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.