In the wake of a bar shooting and wildfires in the Thousand Oaks area, JSerra Catholic is showing how football can bring people together beyond the playing field.
The school’s opponent this weekend, Oaks Christian, is about five miles away from the Borderline Bar and Grill, where 13 people were killed Wednesday. The nearby fires in south California have claimed the lives of two others, as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Associated Press.
With the playoff game against Oaks Christian postponed due to fires, JSerra will host a tailgate for fans traveling about 110 miles from Westlake Village to San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
MORE FROM THIS GAME: JSerra/Oaks Christian matchup postponed to Saturday
JSerra Athletic director Chris Ledyard said school officials meet early each week to discuss the upcoming game, but with the tragedies, they called another session on Friday.
“We all felt that it was necessary to meet, what we called an emergency meeting (Friday), and discuss how we can support Oaks Christian with everything they’ve gone through,” he said in a phone interview.
JSerra often hosts a pregame “fun zone” at home games, Ledyard said.
This time, they invited the opponents.
“We though that there’s an excellent possibility that there would be some connections, whether it’s alumni or people from the town, people who may be connected to all the things that are going on right now in that area,” Ledyard said. “We just wanted to be supportive.”
It’s not just the Thousand Oaks area that has been affected. Ron Nielsen, part of the booster club for JSerra, said some players on the team have brothers who go to Pepperdine, in Malibu, which was hit hard by the fires. Some JSerra players came from the Thousand Oaks area.
His dad was a firefighter in San Fernando Valley.
“I remember him leaving as a kid, going out, fighting those fires,” Nielsen said over the phone. “The world is relatively small and we touch a lot of places and we all know people within this Orange County/LA County region. We hope always that we give a great example for the students and our children.”
The tailgate planners aren’t sure how many people to expect, but they’re prepared.
Nielsen said they have 1,000 cheeseburgers ready to go through a caterer, Burger Junkie.
“We don’t know if five people people are going to show,” Nielsen said. “We’re trying to be as hospitable as possible under such an awful situation.”
It’s a small gesture, a meal before a football game, but it can help a community in need.
At the very least, it will show players how to bridge the gap between competition and humanity.
“We talk a lot about that whole, ‘Sports builds character,’ but really, sports reveal your character,” Ledyard said. “If you do the right thing, then it can build character.”