Paradise High School students surprised with trip to San Francisco 49ers' 'Monday Night Football' game

After living through California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire, the football team at Paradise Hig...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 7:19 PM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 7:19 PM

After living through California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire, the football team at Paradise High School had every right to feel disheartened.

Almost all of them lost their homes in the Camp Fire, which has so far killed 42 people and torched more than 125,000 acres in Northern California. Their promising football season, which included a berth in the state playoffs, was cut short.

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But their older, professional football-playing brothers down the road in Santa Clara found a way to make them smile, at least for one night.

The Paradise High School football team spent time with the San Francisco 49ers during the pro team's "Monday Night Football" game against the New York Giants at Levi's Stadium.

They were 'smiling ear to ear'

The group of about 80 people -- including players, coaches and cheerleaders -- was in high spirits during the four-hour bus ride to the stadium.

"The kids were excited before we got on the bus and smiling ear to ear," Anne Stearns, athletic director at Paradise High School, told CNN. "They were excited to be with each other, because this is their family."

The group -- with many clad in the school's green, gold and white colors -- met briefly with 49ers general manager John Lynch after arriving at the stadium.

"Sorry what's happened in your town, guys. That's rough, but hopefully being here tonight can make it a little better," said Lynch, in a video posted on the team's website. He also took a picture with the teens.

They met a 49ers legend

Lynch then asked the students to stand with the team on the field during the playing of the National Anthem.

"Our guys are fired up for it," he told them.

Stearns said the reaction from the crowd was amazing.

"People were cheering for Paradise. It was a really cool thing for them," she said. "People in the crowd were just giving them stuff and buying them stuff."

The team also met former quarterback Steve Young, a 49ers legend, whom Stearns described as gracious and signed every shirt they handed to him.

Stearns heard this multiple times from the students: "Man, it feels good to smile."

They even played a little football

And quite frankly, these students don't have a lot to smile about right now. Stearns said out of the entire football team and coaching staff, only a handful of homes were left standing, and some don't even know the fate of their houses yet.

"Most of them left the house with the clothes on their back and that's all they have left," she said.

After the game was over, the group found itself back on the field, where the team held a little impromptu scrimmage.

"It was awesome to see them running plays and playing football," Stearns said.

Paradise's football team, which finished the season with an 8-3 record, was supposed to play in the first-round of the high school playoffs against nearby Red Bluff High School. Red Bluff offered to let Paradise have a bye and go to the second round, but school administrators thought it best, considering the extreme circumstances, to just go ahead and concede.

"Red Bluff High School will fill in for Paradise High School in the second round of the football playoffs, and do its best to represent the honor and spirit that is Paradise football," Red Bluff said in a Facebook post.

On the long ride home, the teens couldn't contain their joy at the night's events.

"It was late at night and they hadn't slept. They didn't want to stop talking," she said.

What happens next?

They're returning to an uncertain future caused by a massive wildfire that's still raging. The Camp Fire destroyed more than 7,000 structures, including 6,522 single-family residences. More than 52,000 people have been evacuated and 1,385 are in shelters. The fire is only about 30% contained.

"It's a war zone. We are a small rural county out here and everyone is in shock," Tim Taylor, the superintendent for the Butte County Office of Education, told CNN. "We want to be able to grieve, but we gotta be positive."

After the group returned to what's left of Paradise, Stearns reflected on the past few days.

"I came home and I just broke down. I am one of the fortunate ones, I still have my home," Stearns said, through tears. "I've never felt like this before, and I wish my home would have burnt down too, so I could feel what they are feeling. I would give them my home if I could."

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