Fate of school sports to be decided by California

by Jon Donohue, staff writer

Update Dec. 16: From a district email: “While a county is under a Stay at Home order, team sports and practice [are] not permitted. Outdoor physical conditioning, practice, skill-building and training are allowed but must be limited to a single household. Competition will not be allowed until January 25 at the earliest. The state will reassess this competition start date on January 4 based on the latest disease transmission trends, and it could be pushed back further if necessary.

Will sports return for the fall and spring? It’s a complex question to answer for all athletics, and currently there is not a definitive answer. California Interscholastic Federation released a document on Dec. 1. To sum it up, “The CIF state office is removing all regional and state championship events from the season one sports calendar” but not ending those competitive seasons. Sports for season one include volleyball, water polo, cross country, competitive cheer, football, field hockey, gymnastics, and skiing and snowboarding. These sports are not cancelled, but the start date is delayed until the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) publishes their health guidelines for states and counties, then the CIF can establish guidelines for athletics and start dates. Sports can reopen before schools do fully, but currently the decision ultimately hinges on a document that will be released by the State of California that will explain what sports are restricted by the tier you are in. 

As of now, the four tiers are, in order from most to least restrictive, purple, red, orange, and yellow. Tier classification comes down to two different factors, adjusted case rate and positivity rate. Adjusted case rate is the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 with seven-day lag, adjusted for number of tests performed, and positivity rate is a seven-day average of all COVID-19 tests performed that are positive. The threshold for the purple tier is more than seven cases a day per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate threshold is more than 8%. For Sonoma County, being in purple means that we have more than seven new cases a day per 100,000 people, and our positivity rate is more than eight percent. 

Many athletic directors have been working strenuously to figure out a way to deal with the obstacles of COVID. Maria Carrillo High School athletic director, Jerry Deakins, said, “Currently CIF is waiting for the state to identify what sports will be able to happen corresponding to the tier [their location] is in,” which will be listed in the document.

 Deakins added, “Decisions regarding COVID and athletics start at the CDPH.  Then, the CIF will issue season start and end dates. After that each section will establish guidelines for member schools, for Maria Carrillo, that would be the North Coast Section. County health departments, such as Sonoma County, could increase protocols based on local circumstances, as well as the district. All entities cannot do anything less restrictive than the CDPH issue.”

Overall, it seems likely that we may not have sports in the winter and spring.

If we enter the red tier, we might be able to have sports. “For sports to happen, first of all, we have to get out of the purple tier,” said Deakins. “Once the document is released, we will have a much better understanding of how sports will work.”  Deakins also said, “One thing that can give hope to student athletes is that “the superintendent decides [whether or not sports come back, and we do not need to be on campus for sports to take place.” Knowing that we do not need to have in-person school for sports to happen could make them return faster than anticipated. 

When asked about competitions, Noe Viera, an MCHS junior and cross country and track and field athlete, argued that sports are more important now than ever. 

“The continuation of the closing of sports is putting athletes like myself at a disadvantage,” Viera said. There have been cross country meets that California runners have been able to compete at because they are in a club that makes it so they can race at high school meets and do not have to do it associated with their school. Viera added, “It is hard to keep going mentally when you don’t have anything to look forward to, taking all the fun out of the sport and the passion to do it. A lot of student athletes depend on athletic ability to help them get into colleges.” He sees other athletes getting to race and have fun while he cannot.

Cross country and track and field coach Greg Fogg said he can relate to being a student athlete. He knows what it is like firsthand to get to compete at sports, the thrill of nervous excitement, the adrenaline flowing, the pure joy that comes from competitions. He realizes that they are losing some great times that could have been spent having fun with their team.

 “I can relate to it as an athlete myself as a teenager,” Fogg said. “They are naturally social, and to be deprived of that is pretty challenging. Providing them with a social outlet as long as it is within safety protocol is really important. I think being involved in something is very important.” 

While Fogg said he would like to bring sports back, he would be “selective” about them, prioritizing all outside sports without shared equipment first. “There is no reason for golf not to be in session,” he said. “I also think that cross country in the right boundary is a very safe sport.” 

”I would bring sports back up to a limited measure,” Viera said, stressing the value of important competitions like North Coast sectionals and state championships. “I think sports are a lot more important to people than they see. These are the futures of lots of kids; they are depending on good sports performance. [Not having sports] could impact a person’s life greatly.” 

However, Deakins thinks that he would not make a definitive decision to bring back sports. “With the CIF delaying the start of Fall sports due to a lack of guidelines by the CDPH, I don’t think a decision, or discussion, can happen until all information is presented.” 

Overall, it seems likely that we may not have sports in the winter and spring. However, this does not mean that there is no chance at all; if we get out of the purple tier there is a possibility for sports to occur. While sports are closed, many students are incredibly impacted daily, so hopefully soon they can be all given something to get them outside and active. Having something to get excited for could make all the difference to help improve students overall happiness and livelihood. 

Said Deakins, “Without the guidelines from the state, I think that places athletics in the unknown.”

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