The air quality over Sparks and Reno improved into the moderate range, the Washoe County School District's allowable range for prep athletes to practice outside. Despite that change, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the state's governing body for high school sports, released a memo, calling off all outdoor sporting activities -- in Washoe County, as well as Douglas, Carson, Lyon, Storey and Churchill counties -- scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
That means all season-opening football games set to be played locally were called off unless participating schools had made alternate plans to play at a location in the green or 'good' air quality range. The traditionally tough preseason soccer tournament hosted by Galena, as well as some other preseason scrimmages and jamborees, were all nixed due to the NIAA's directive.
Despite the directive wiping out games locally, 10 of the 12 Division I schools in northern Nevada found safe zones to play their contests. Unfortunately for Rail City prep football fans, Sparks-area school Spanish Springs is one of the teams left out in the cold, with no place and no one to play.
"I'm just frustrated for the kids that we don't have the ability to play," Spanish Springs athletic director Art Anderson said. "They didn't get to scrimmage. They had not been outside for practice in a week. And now they have to wait until next week.
Spanish Springs was scheduled to open its fall campaign in a non-league tilt Friday night at Bishop Manogue.
"It's a tough deal," Manogue coach Paul Mills said. "We'd been working pretty hard and looking forward to this opening game. The excitement had been compounded by not having a scrimmage (last Saturday). We were pretty raring to go and looking forward to the home opener. I'm not casting any blame. It's just unfortunate with this smoke coverage we have. I'm certainly in favor of protecting the health and welfare of the kids."
The NIAA's directive will not allow Spanish Springs and Manogue to play Friday night, even if the air quality is improved by afternoon. Anderson and SSHS coach Scott Hare were among the first school officials in the area to begin to look for alternatives to playing the game locally, but still they found obstacles at every turn.
Options existed that could have allowed the Cougars and Miners to play at various sites on Saturday, but Manogue was unwilling to play on Saturday.
"Scheduling for Saturday, with the holiday weekend, would have been tough," Mills said. "We have several kids and coaches connected with (the University of) Nevada make travel arrangements to go down to watch Nevada at UCLA, plus other families had commitments. It was a pretty tough situation for Saturday."
Spanish Springs also worked out a deal with Foothill of suburban Redding to play a doubleheader at the California school's campus, a scenario that allowed Spanish Springs to play an opponent there in the afternoon before the Foothill-Reed game Friday night. Additionally, SSHS officials looked into playing at Lowry in Winnemucca Friday afternoon.
Neither of those options could work for Manogue.
"Going to Redding, it didn't work because of the time out of school for our kids, and the distance," Mills said. "We didn't think it was a good fit for our parents and administration to travel, but the biggest thing was the time out of school.
"(With the Winnemucca option), it was afternoon on Thursday. We had changed our practice to a non-game prep day and were doing a little intrasquad scrimmage. The decision was made. We'd moved on. It was a similar thing with going to Redding, a lot of time out of school and transportation issues. At that point, it was four in the afternoon. It was a done deal at that point. We were moving on."
As early as Wednesday afternoon, Spanish Springs was preparing for games locally to be prohibited. Knowing options with Manogue were limited, it even tried to find an alternate opponent.
It looked like that might come to fruition. Carson had tentatively agreed to play Spanish Springs at Foothill if the Senators' regularly scheduled Friday night opponent, Hug, was unable to travel to a neutral site outside of the Truckee Meadows. However, late Thursday afternoon Carson and Hug were given the green light to play at Lovelock Saturday afternoon, erasing any hopes Spanish Springs had of playing Carson.
"Originally, I didn't think we had any alternatives," Hug athletic director Marv Mercer said. "When the NIAA canceled everything, at first I kind of had a sigh of relief, like 'now at least we know.' Then it was a matter of let's figure out the pieces and move ahead. I'm happy because I did want the kids to get a chance to play.
"To be honest, we were not that enthusiastic about traveling all the way to California to play a football game. It would have been more cost prohibitive. I'm not saying we couldn't have done it, but it definitely was a bigger issue. I'd much rather have stayed closer," Mercer added, alluding to any potential plans that could have even included Hug playing Spanish Springs in Redding.
With Manogue's playing options limited, and Hug and Carson finding a competitive venue in Pershing County, Spanish Springs is left without a weekend game. That prospect leaves Cougars coaches and administrators less than thrilled.
"Manogue was not able to work with us, to get a game with us, for a lot of reasons," Anderson said.
Hare was more pointed in his comments.
"I think the fact that every (large school) in northern Nevada, except us, is playing, says a lot," Hare said. "Manogue was the only one not willing to adjust. That's a little discomforting. You only get so many football games. I'll do everything in my power to get our kids 10 games a year ... We had officials ready to go. We had a field.
"Now, we (Spanish Springs) are the only team not playing, that wants to play. That's just too bad. I feel for my kids. Today is the first day we got to go outside for practice and there's a dark cloud hanging over us. And it's not from smoke."
Spanish Springs will now open its season at home Sept. 6 against non-conference foe Damonte Ranch.
*At Reed, Raiders coaches were breathing a sigh of relief that they had worked out a solution to the smoke dilemma. Reed, which went to Foothill last fall, was set to host the Redding-area school for a return trip on this season-opening weekend. However, when the game being played locally fell into jeopardy, officials at both schools worked to get the game venue changed to Foothill's home campus.
The California school, which will now make extra gate revenue due to an extra home game, agreed to pick up the cost of Reed's charter bus expense.
"Just hearing the news that the games in Washoe County were canceled and knowing we are fortunate enough to be traveling for a game tomorrow, it's a huge relief," 13-year Reed coach Ernie Howren said in a phone interview Thursday night. "We need a game. The kids need it. The coaches need it. You prepare all year to play games, so we're glad we're going to finally get that opportunity.
"When the opportunity first presented itself, when Foothill presented the opportunity of us going back up there and paying for our bus, at first I was nervous. To lose a home game, taking the chance on Wednesday that everything might clear up by Friday, that was disturbing. I'm sure relieved we made the decision we did, but at the time I was a little nervous."
*At Sparks, the NIAA's directive forced the cancelation of the Railroaders' scheduled season opener at Yerington. However, long-time Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said that's not the worst thing in the world.
"From my standpoint, we've got a long way to go to get better. We could use the practice," Kittrell said. "I think we do need the practice more than a game ... We need the practice time outside. I'm not sure how beneficial a game would've been for our kids. Practice time is essential right now. Counting today, we've only had four padded practices. Normally, without the new balanced school calendar and the smoke and everything, by this time we'd have 14.
"We need the practice time outside. I'm not sure how beneficial a game would've been for our kids. We were ready to go play, but it wouldn't have been very pretty."
Sparks will now open its season at home Sept. 6 against Elko in a Div I-A North league game.