The junior varsity and varsity girls’ soccer team was preparing for an intra-squad scrimmage. The cross country team stretched for its run around campus on the track while the boys’ soccer team practiced on the main field. The junior varsity and freshman football teams worked on special teams before the varsity squad started its own practice a couple hours later. Even the marching band could be heard echoing around the athletic facility as they practiced in the parking lot.
But it wasn’t a normal Tuesday afternoon at Spanish Springs. Tuesday marked the fourth consecutive day (excluding Sunday and Labor Day) the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s prep athletics governing body, cancelled outdoor athletic events because of poor air quality.
The teams were able to practice outside because a gust came in that blew smoke out of the area after the athletic events had already been cancelled earlier in the afternoon.
The Cougars’ girls soccer team was one of the teams in the area that lost a scheduled game because of the NIAA’s ruling Tuesday. It was scheduled to play Douglas.
“It’s tough,” coach Mike Faker said.
Because each game counts toward playoff seeding, Faker said the game against Douglas will need to be made up but he admits it’s going to be challenging to fit the game into a schedule that will likely force his team to play a third game.
“It’s like we’re running in mud,” Faker said of the number of cancellations caused by the smoke.
A team that literally runs in mud occasionally, the Spanish Springs cross country team has joined the list of numerous Rail City teams forced to condition inside by the smoke. The team has done everything from running the hallways to doing pushups to workout indoors.
The team even tried using the gym to workout, which provides a unique challenge for a cross country team.
“That didn’t work,” coach Ron Cross said plainly.
The Cougars’ cross county team lost a meet last Saturday to the smoke but is scheduled for its second crack at a season-opener this Saturday. Cross said the team is trying to make up last weekend’s lost meet.
Of the three Sparks high schools, Reed was the only one able to play a football game last Friday, winning in Foothill, a suburban Redding school, 38-28.
The coaches of the two squads, (Scott Hare at Spanish Springs and Rob Kittrell at Sparks) who spent their Friday nights channel surfing instead of calling plays, spoke colorfully of their smoke-induced frustration.
“My wife’s going to kick me out of the house if we don’t get out soon,” Kittrell said. “It’s frustrating to have no control. It's frustrating to be sitting at home Monday afternoon, after we'd been forced inside for morning practice, and then it clears up to under 50 AQI (Air Quality Index). There's no predicting it. In 23 years of coaching football I've never been through anything like this. The smoke just comes and goes. You can't predict it."
Hare, upset last week by Bishop Monogue’s inability to “work with them” and play the game at an alternate site last Friday, realized his team, and the start of its season, is at the grace of the smoke.
"It stinks because you don't play football inside, but you've got to get over it pretty fast. You have to adjust and I think we have,” Hare said. “We're still at the mercy of the wind direction. It looks like the firefighters are working hard, but it sounds like for the next week or so, at least periodically, we're still going to be inside sometimes. We'll be ready and practice either way."
The NIAA cancelled Wednesday's outdoor athletic events as well, marking the fifth day of lost games for schools in the area due to smoke. Among the cancelled games were two boys soccer league games, Reed at Galena and Spanish Springs at Douglas. Both of those meetings will need to be made up and likely forcing the schools to play a third game in the week the games are rescheduled.
"We're praying the smoke clears out," Spanish Springs athletic director Art Anderson said.
Anderson said the school is already looking into moving Friday's football game with Damonte Ranch to Lovelock either Friday or Saturday depending on the conditions.
"This is absolutely the worst-case scenario for the start of any season," the eighth-year AD said. "I can attribute a little for spring sports where games get cancelled for weather but nothing like this where we are bringing team indoors day after day. We're at the point where everyone is about to burst at the seams."