CHICO — Monday night’s basketball games between Paradise and Chico should have been normal, except that it was the first night back on the court for the Bobcats after the Camp Fire.
“I got stuck in traffic. I had to ditch my car eventually and I got a ride to Chico from a school bus,” said Paradise High School senior Lleyton Rice.
That’s how Rice remembered leaving his hometown, running from the flames of the Camp Fire the morning of Nov. 8.
“I haven’t built up the courage to go back yet I guess but, eventually, I will,” Rice said.
Eighteen days later, with much of his town burned, getting back to basketball felt right.
“We got to finish out strong and have the best season that we can have,” Rice said.
“It’s awesome because we get to just take a break and focus on competing because it’s what we love,” said senior Colby Cline.
While pain and sorrow have echoed throughout Paradise, the loudest thing roaring Monday night was a sense of normalcy for kids and families who have been devastated by the wildfire.
“This gets their minds off it and builds them up a little bit,” said Ross Roberts.
Watching number 40, his daughter Fiona, was a far cry from what Roberts was forced to do the morning the Camp Fire started. At first, he had been glad his daughter wasn’t feeling well and stayed home sick from school but then he raced home from work.
“When I rolled in there I had to put out a big, huge fire in the front yard that had a transformer that was on fire,” Roberts recalled.
Basketball has extinguished some of the fear and grief for Fiona Roberts and her family.
“It feels really good all the support, not only from the team but from the coaches and from the other teams,” Fiona Roberts said. “Like Chico they’ve been really awesome to us. Even though we’re rivals, they’ve been treating us like family.”
For students who have had to be on the offense against fate, finding time to be kids in a scenario with rules and predictable outcomes was a gift.
While basketball has been able to get underway for Paradise students after the Camp Fire, classes have not. The athletic director told FOX40 the first classes may be held online just to get the whole system moving again. The district is still working to secure new physical spaces for education, like portable buildings.