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Pateros strong: Sports won’t be postponed

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The Carlton Complex fire approached Pateros High School and the school’s football field, but neither the school or the field was burned. The bank above the field’s bleachers was singed, however.

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PATEROS — In the wake of devastation, determined communities seem to find a common theme to rally around. In Pateros, that theme could be as small as a phrase on a hat. The hats, which read, “Pateros Strong, Rising from the Ashes 2014” will be available at Pateros High School and various Pateros businesses as early as this morning.

Girls basketball and softball coach Sheri Mortimer bought the hats, yet a few days later received a check covering the entire cost from a man in Seattle.

It just shows you the town of Pateros is not alone in handling the burden of getting this community back to where it was,” Mortimer said.

The Carlton Complex Fire is the largest in Washington history and claimed an estimated 30 homes in and around Pateros on July 17.

Pateros athletic director Mike Hull said there was “never a discussion” to cancel or postpone fall sports because of the fire damage. He said doing so would counteract the progress already made.

Cancelling fall sports would tell our kids this tragedy is insurmountable,” Hull said. “I think it’s essential we keep our sports going.”

Different groups from across the state have come to lend a hand and their support to Pateros. Volunteers from rival sports towns have flocked into town, donating their money, items and time. Hull said humanity comes before the grudges held on the field or court every time.

We go to Entiat, Manson and Bridgeport for games, and we’ve become rivals on the field,” Hull said. “At the end of the day we are all people, and they are all coming together as one to help the cause.”

As the Carlton Complex fire raged on the north side of town July 17, the flames came within 10 feet of head football coach Marcus Stennes’ outdoor classroom. The building sits next to the outdoor gymnasium, near the school’s football field. Stennes said although he wasn’t aware of any of his players losing homes, a sense of normalcy comes with playing football.

I think in a way, the season can be a release for these kids,” he said. “Get back on the field and do something they are used to, and to have something to play for.”

The football field is currently littered with debris, and the playing field is singed throughout. There are no plans to change the home field venue for football season, early plans to replace singed grass with sod are in place and Stennes said he is eagerly anticipating their home opener.

I think everyone is just sick of looking at the rubble,” Stennes said. “Once it’s cleaned up and the school is cleaned and that first game kicks off, it will be a great day.”

The high school has become the central site for relief efforts and is packed with enthusiastic volunteers, some moving pallets of home goods fresh off the bed of semi-trucks, others dishing out piles of food to hungry citizens. The hallways of the school are lined with canned goods, pet food and toiletries while the gymnasium is packed with everything from work suits to teddy bears.

Among the volunteers are Pateros athletes, including basketball players Lorie LeDoux and Vanessa Figueroa. Mortimer said the two girls have been at the school daily, doing whatever needs to be done to help out families in need.

I’d say I’ve seen about 60 percent of our kids out here at some point or another,” Mortimer said. “Lorie and Vanessa are literally here every day.”

There is still much work to be done before the school may be opened up for classes. All the items brought to the school, which made it the centralized location for relief efforts, must be moved.

Hull said everything the school currently has will be moved to “the old grocery store downtown” in “about a week.”

The vents, walls, carpets, bathrooms and learning spaces must all be thoroughly cleaned before the 293 students may be admitted into the school. Hull said he has no doubt they’ll be ready for classes.

When the workers we have volunteering put their minds to it, they can move mountains,” he said.

Donation boxes will flank the boxes of hats scattered across Pateros, with the money directly going into the Pateros Relief Fund. Mortimer said she hopes the hats can help the athletes in their upcoming season.

I think this can motivate the players to find an identity for the upcoming season,” Mortimer said. “I hope they can rally under one central slogan.”

Pateros strong.

Reach David Heiling at 509-664-7157 or .