The Camp Fire devastated Paradise, but it didn't stop victory for the high school's first football game since last year

Posted Saturday, 24 August 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)The Paradise High School Bobcats had their season stolen from them last year. The team in Northern California missed the playoffs for reasons out of their control after the Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise in the span of two and a half weeks last November. Now billed as the state's deadliest and most destructive wildfire, the Camp Fire left 85 dead, destroyed almost 13,972 homes, 528 businesses and 4,293 other buildings. It also left all but three of the town's football players homeless, according to Anne Stearns, the school's athletic director. Some athletes live as far as two hours away and stay with friends during the week to lessen their commute, Stearns told CNN. To the players football is their one constant. "This is their one safety, their security, their home, their normalcy, their routine," she said. The Paradise community came together Friday for the team's first game since the fires tore through their town. The Bobcats played the Williams High School Yellow Jackets at home. "It's a huge Paradise family reunion," Stearns told CNN during the game Friday. The town of 27,000 loves its football and shuts down every Friday during football season, she said. "Football is like Paradise's thing like Friday night games you can see your neighbor, they don't even have kids on the team and they are here to support us," Jada Payseno, senior cheer captain, told CNN affiliate KHSL-TV. The normal attendance for Friday night football at PHS is anywhere between 2,000 and 2,500, but Stearns said Friday's crowd swelled to at least 5,000. "It shows how strong we are as a community, as a people and how we have become a family. We are rebuilding and nothing will stand in our way. We are coming back fighting," Stearns said. Friday's game included touching moments from both sides of the ball. Paradise honored the seniors who lost their season and thanked the first responders who played such a crucial role during the wildfire. The Williams High School community saved their lunch money and donated it to Paradise, Stearns said. The actual football field did not have any damage from the fire, but buildings on all four sides burned. Stearns said the scoreboard suffered heat damage, though. Paul Orlando, the PHS groundskeeper and the football team's defensive coordinator, told CNN affiliate KHSL-TV the field's amenities -- like the irrigation system -- has "pretty much been a disaster," but knows what it meant to the team to bring normalcy back to the players. "We want the players to come out here and be proud of what they play on," Orlando said. The football team's homecoming also ended in a victory. By the second quarter Friday night, Stearns said the score was 28-0. And then went on to win 42-0.

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