‘It’s been brutal’: Roller coaster high school football season comes to a close
In his more than two decades of coaching high school football, Brad Sparks said this season was his most challenging.
“It’s been a year-long journey of ups and downs, in hoops and out of hoops, under hurdles and over hurdles,” he said. “It has been brutal. And, it’s nobody’s fault. The administration did everything they could to help us. But man, it’s been brutal.”
After the traditional fall football season was delayed to spring due to COVID, Nevada County high schools Nevada Union and Bear River both scheduled out a six-game season starting March 12. Things went well for the varsity Miners for the first two weeks, but then things began to fall apart.
The Miners’ final four games were canceled for one COVID-19 reason or another. One week it was the opposing team had a positive test, another it was the Miners with a positive test, and last week it was because tests results were late to return.
Nevada Union’s junior varsity also lost much of its season, only playing one game against Placer.
The Bear River program fared better, with the varsity team playing out five games, and the JV team seeing action four times this season.
Overall the season was a nine-month grind riddled with fluctuating guidelines, last minute changes and, in many cases, disappointment.
“I feel everybody worked their tail off to see us play six games and it’s just unfortunate things played out the way it did,” said Sparks.
Despite all the issues, cancellations and uncertainty, most feel it was still worth it just to get on the field the few times they did.
Nevada Union senior receiver/defensive back Drake Schlachter said he was disappointed by the way the season played out, but expressed gratitude for the two games he did get to play.
“Honestly, I want to say ’no,’ it wasn’t worth it, but at the same time, I got to play my last two games of high school football which is extremely important,” he said. “I’ve talked with a bunch of people who already graduated and they say they would be willing to give up anything to play one more high school game. So I’m glad I stuck with it. But it was definitely hard to stay motivated knowing you weren’t going to play that week, or it was in the back of your head that you might not be able to.”
While grateful for his time on the field as well as his coaches and teammates, Schalchter said he wishes he had more time with them off the field.
“To my teammates I just want to say ’’thank you for sticking it out, and I wish I got to know you better,” he said. “Not being able to have the trips down to (away games) or team dinners definitely separated us, and we only saw each other on the field.”
Sparks said he believes playing out the season was worth it because of the positive effect coach-player relationships can have, but added it also took a mental toll this year.
“It was worth it in the sense of getting to spend time with the kids and keeping those relationships,” he said. “But I worry about the mental health for our kids. I mean it was, ‘here’s the plan, rip the rug out, here’s your plan again, rip the rug out.’ It was brutal. Absolutely brutal.
“If I had a magic ball and could foresee the entire future, the hurdles and hoops we would have to go over and run through, I don’t know. I don’t know that I would do it again. I would have to really sit down and discuss it with our kids.”
Nevada Union’s junior quarterback Gabe Baker agreed that it was a difficult season unlike any other, but was grateful for the time he got alongside his teammates.
“It was definitely worth it,” he said. “It was really tough for everybody, especially the seniors, but I think that those two games were important because we did put in so much work over those nine months, and had so much patience.
“It was definitely one of my favorite teams to be a part of, even if we only got to play two games. This team could have been special and I just really enjoyed being part of it.”
Baker said he also learned something about himself through the whole process.
“I learned that I probably have more patience than I thought I did,” he said.
The Miners ended up going 1-1 overall with a 20-9 victory over Bear River and a 34-27 loss to Placer.
“Tough as nails, willing to adapt and full of hope,” Sparks said of his team. “Those kids are unbelievable. I don’t think we give student-athletes, this year especially, enough credit.”
Bear River co-head coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie also spoke highly of their team’s ability to adapt and persevere through an unorthodox and trying season.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been prouder of any group than this group,” said Savoie. “Just what they’ve gone through and had to overcome to make it out here. It’s a special, special thing and I’m proud to be their coach.”
The Bear River Bruins went 2-3 on the season with wins against Foresthill and Western Sierra, and losses to NU, Truckee and Colfax.
The Bruins were scheduled to play Colfax a second time on Friday, but COVID issues led to them being low on roster numbers and the game being canceled.
“When I called the kids on Saturday (April 10) and told them that we weren’t going to be able to play that last game, some were disappointed but I think most expected it,” said Savoie. “Being able to play one of those Colfax games made it worth it.”
Logue added, “I can’t believe there’s that many teams out there that got in five games. … For as bad as things were, it was as good as it could get as well.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com.
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