High school football? In March?
What in the COVID-plagued world was happening on Thompson Avenue last Friday? Was that really the Orange-and-Black Selma Bears taking the field just nine days before Easter?
Of all the strangeness that has accompanied this year-long viral pandemic, this was one of the strangest — and most uplifting. On a spring evening, the Selma High football Bears opened the 2021 football season and inaugurated their “new” (yet one-year-old) rebuilt Staley Stadium.
For a year all of Selma had been waiting to sit in the stands at the beautiful ballpark that was completed last March. Not since October of 2018 season had we seen seen a football game in town. We hopped into our cars for every game in 2019 as our “Road Warriors” brought home a Section championship.
Finally, a 2021 short-season was scheduled. Then, the wait continued for one more week after the March 19 scheduled opener against Madera was cancelled because of COVID restrictions.
But the waiting was over last Friday, and it was an important day for a lot of folks.
— An important day, certainly, for Selma High coach Matt Logue and his Bears, who started slowly but rallied to hang tough — even holding a one-point lead midway of the fourth quarter — in a 46-31 loss to highly-ranked Bullard in Selma’s first game since December of 2019.
Despite no cheerleaders, no marching band and a sparse crowd (attendance was limited to a few members of each player’s family), the Bears gave Selma hopes for a mini-season to be proud of.
— An important day for Selma High athletic director Randy Esraelian, who had to arrange, re-arrange and re-re-arrange sports schedules for the past few months. Football, in particular, was difficult to schedule with numerous Valley schools opting out of playing this spring. He ultimately came up with a five game schedule (with four home games) that finally began with last Friday's “soft opening” of the new stadium.
“We had to scramble, our choices were limited,” Esraelian said. Already down to four games after last week’s cancellation, he’s hoping for no more missed contests. (The Bears are scheduled for a home game this Friday against Kerman.)
— An important day for parents such as Andy and Yvette Montijo, whose son A.J., a Selma High senior, was playing his first year of football. Andy Montijo, a former Selma Unified board member, described Friday’s game as “baby steps” toward bringing the community back together.
His wife, a former City Councilwoman, said that just as football players huddle on the field, high school football is “the community’s huddle” and Friday’s game was “the light at the end of the tunnel” toward inspiring hope and optimism for the future.
— And an important day for all of Selma High. Learning director Luis Collazo, not exactly a busy man in his role monitoring stadium crowd control on Friday, expressed optimism that the return of football would help foster a renewed spirit when students return next week.
Football is a lifeblood of small-town America. It is not the only factor that will bring us back from the darkness of the pandemic, but is an important one. In towns such as Selma with just one high school, Friday Night Lights takes on greater importance than simply a game. Thus, “the community huddle.”
So now we can all realistically anticipate the future Friday night — maybe not until the fall — when a full Staley Stadium crowd will rock the bleachers in support of the hometown Bears. Until that happens, we’ll have to embrace these “baby steps” that will lead to a return to something resembling normal.
Longtime Selma resident Ken Robison is a retired newspaper reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. “Selma Stories” runs regularly in The Enterprise.
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