The high school football season kicked off last weekend — on the first day of spring, no less.
Talk about your March Madness.
But then the coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything for a loop during the past year. Why should prep football be any different?
There were some caveats. Due to a shortage of officials, the “Friday Night Lights” have become the Saturday Night Lights in the Citrus Belt League. And those lamps were hardly needed for the 5 p.m. kickoff at Dodge Field as Beaumont defeated host Redlands 58-12 under a brilliant sun.
There were no marching bands and only four fans were allowed entry per player. Those folks were spread hither and yon around the aluminum bleachers as they maintained social distancing and were masked up like the Lone Ranger, of course.
Cheerleaders? They were there, too, thanks to the California Department of Health reversing field on an early announcement that the pompom set wouldn’t be allowed.
“I’m glad we were able to play,” Redlands High athletic director Estevan Valencia said after the game. “I’m not big on moral victories, but this was great for our team to play and our girls and boys to be able to cheer and for people to be in the stands again.”
Two of those fans Saturday evening were Yesica Flores, the mother of Redlands junior lineman Angel Flores, and Yesica’s 8-year-old son Jacob.
“It’s exciting,” Yesica said. “The kids have been through so much this year and to get back means a lot.”
On the opposite side of the field Beaumont fans cheered like it was 2019 (the last time either team played) as their team took a 32-0 halftime lead.
“C’mon James, get in that backfield,” yelled Debbie Brown, the mother of Cougar outside linebacker James Brown. “Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, push ‘em back, baby!”
An unsung Beaumont hero was senior offensive lineman Joe Peukert, who helped bore holes in the Terrier defense.
“This was amazing,” Peukert said. “It’s been a year since we’ve played and it’s great to be out here now. There were times I thought it might not happen, but our coaches kept our hopes up.”
Leading the way was Cougars’ head coach Jeff Steinberg, who has had successful stints at Ridgecrest Burroughs, Miller, Rancho Verde and now Beaumont.
Asked if the pandemic ever cast doubt, Steinberg said, “There were times it did. But we have 72 kids and they kept on working and stayed focused and they kept caring about each other.”
Redlands coach Mike McFarland spoke with his team for about 15 minutes after the game. He viewed the game as a learning experience, and more.
“This was huge (to play again),” he said. “Some of them had never taken a meaningful snap in a game before. But for the most part we had no meltdowns, and the kids kept their perspective, and were grateful for the opportunity.”
John Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org