Air Quality Affects Sports


The deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California’s history, known as the Butte County Wildfire destroyed around 14,000 residences and killed at least 85 people as it raged across Northern California. The fire, nicknamed as The Camp Fire, started early Thursday morning of November 8th and was not finally contained until Sunday, November 25th after burning for nearly two weeks. The air quality as a result of these fires posed a major health threat to people all throughout Northern California. According to official government agencies, on Friday, November 16, the air quality in San Francisco read 345, the highest hourly air quality readings since the readings began more than 20 years ago. According to, “good” air quality—meaning that the air is “satisfactory and poses little or no health risk” can classify as ranging from 0 to 50 on the air quality index scale. “Moderate” air quality falls between 51 to 100, and “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air ranges from 101-150. Finally, the most dangerous air reads “unhealthy”—meaning that everyone may begin to experience health effects falls between the range of 151-200 on the air quality index scale.

The air quality forced after-school sports to be canceled for over a week, as well as closing school for Friday, November 16th due to the dangerous levels of pollutants in the air. Throughout the Bay Area, many sports were canceled or postponed including the Cal vs. Stanford Football game which was rescheduled for December 1st. Within the high school community, including all of Marin, football, tennis, basketball, and cross country practices and games were postponed or canceled.

For cross country, in particular, The North Coast Section meet was rescheduled from Saturday, November 17th to Tuesday, November 20. After a slight decrease in air quality Tuesday morning, North Coast Section declared that the meet would go on but if air quality read over 150 between any races, they would be canceled immediately. When athletes arrived at the meet, a few races were able to run until the AQI read over 150. The Tam boys were able to squeeze in their race, simply before the air quality rose to unhealthy levels forcing the meet to be canceled “I was a bit bummed about not being able to race the big meet [NCS] but I know that there are a lot of other people who are losing their homes and lives, so not being able to run a cross-country race doesn’t even compare to what is currently going on,” says junior Charlie Osborn.

For both the girls and boys Tam High water polo team, the spot was earned to compete in the NCS game when it was canceled multiple times with little notice. After being canceled more than once, NCS decided the game would be held in an indoor pool at San Francisco City College. Junior Samantha Sternfels says, “For water polo, specifically, it was especially stressful since our game was continuously postponed for a little under a week. Each day we weren’t told the game was going to be on and it would always get canceled and pushed back to the next day. Overall, it was indeed an experience and the smoke break was definitely debilitating to some but we were able to make most of it and finish on a high note.” The girls were seeded third to the number one seed Alameda, winning in a 14-12 upset. The boys won over cross-town rival Redwood with a score of 8-6. Tam girls coach Paul Hettler told the Marin Independent Journal, “For us, NCS was the peak, the top of the pyramid. For us to win is such a crazy dream. The team is very happy to win that goal. It’s shocking, but not completely a surprise.” Following the uncertainty of the game, both the girls and boys water polo teams were able to bring home the win, taking home two NCS banners.

For Camilla Tarpey-Schwed, Senior and NCS Girls Tennis Singles champion, training for this big accomplishment didn’t come easy, especially as the Camp Fire raged throughout Northern California, bringing loads of smoke into the Bay Area. “We basically did not practice at all while the fire was burning,” she says. “It definitely affected everyone’s game because tennis is a sport where it is really important to stay in good condition because there is a lot of cardio and running involved.” To keep in shape, Tarpey-Schwed mentioned how she would go to cycling classes so she could try and keep her cardio in shape. Once the fires were put out due to rain, the chance for playing tennis didn’t look good as the courts were too wet for players to have matches on. “It’s crazy. Because the matches were constantly getting canceled, my season ended this past Tuesday, while it was supposed to end about a month ago,” she adds.