It was 4 p.m. Monday when Mike Gemo was cleaning up the field and locking up the gate to the football field. Instead of preparing to coach the Live Oak High football team to its opening-round game in the Central Coast Section Open Division III playoffs, Gemo was talking with a reporter about the rescheduling of a game for the third time in as many days.
Due to poor air quality from the Camp Fire that began on Nov. 8, Central Coast Section officials postponed the Live Oak-Sacred Cathedral game for a third time and rescheduled it to be played on Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s hard keeping the kids focused,” Gemo said. “They get fired up, then it gets cancelled. They get fired up, then it gets cancelled. But you know it’s not like we’re the only ones in this boat. It is what it is.”
According to Gemo, the CCS goes by the air.gov index to determine whether an athletic contest will be played or not. According to the website, a reading higher than 150 states this: “Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” As of 2:15 p.m. Monday, the game was set to go on as scheduled, with the air index number hovering in the high 120s, Gemo said.
“At 3:15, it was 153 and that’s when CCS made the call,” Gemo said. “I feel bad for Sacred Heart. They were probably a half-hour away from us and had to turn around and go back to San Francisco.”
The Live Oak-SHC game was originally scheduled for last Friday before being rescheduled to Saturday and then Monday. Now it’s been rescheduled again, but there is no guarantee the game will be played due to the unpredictable nature of the Camp Fire. This is the third straight year in which fires have affected the high school football season. Two years ago, the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz mountains forced Live Oak to eventually cancel its Homecoming Game and last year the Santa Rosa fires pushed the playoff schedule back a week.
However, this year is an entirely different experience. The Acorns had just finished their pre-game walk-through and were inside the locker room when they were told the game had been rescheduled yet again.
“We just have to stay ready and prepared,” standout running back Nick Lomanto said. “If anything, this gives us more time to prepare for this game. We’ve been putting in a lot of new plays and tricks, and now it’s just mentally preparing for this game and ignoring all the commotion.”
Said Gemo: “I’ve coached a lot of years and have never experienced anything like this before. But it’s understandable. CCS wants to make sure the kids are playing when the air quality is at healthy levels, and you would think they’re doing it for all the right reasons and for the safety of the kids. Truthfully, I’m out here on the field and I can feel a little bit in my throat.”
Lomanto can’t wait to get back into game action, as he departed the team’s final regular-season game against Oak Grove with a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter. Lomanto had to get the shoulder popped back in at the hospital, and he said he’s eager to show everyone he’s capable of making an impact, just like he did throughout the season.
“I’m more motivated than ever to show people I’m back,” he said.
The game is a rematch from the opening round of the playoffs last season, when Live Oak won a thrilling contest at historic Kezar Stadium, 28-21. This time, it will be the No. 3 seed Acorns (8-2) hosting the No. 6 seed Fighting Irish (5-5) in a contest that would surprise no one if it went down to the wire.