In the Mother Lode League and across the state, the projected return of high school sports in December is being eagerly anticipated.

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we made the heartbreaking decision to cancel our state basketball championships to be held that weekend in Sacramento. In my nearly 30 years in education, that determination, along with the cancelation of spring sports championships, were two of the most difficult decisions to make. If you would have told me on that day that we would still be faced with similar uncertainties at the start of the 2020-21 school year, I would not have believed that to be possible.

However, we stood in a similar place on July 20, 2020, and decided to restructure the 2020-21 sports calendar with the goal to provide as much of a full-season experience for the greatest number of student-athletes. I will be forever grateful to our 10 Section Commissioners and CIF Associate Executive Director, Brian Seymour, for leading the way to that conclusion. Working with the Governor’s Office, the California Department of Public Health, and the California Department of Education, we made this determination with health and safety at the forefront. A decision that would also allow our member schools and school districts to focus their efforts on the most important task of all, the education of our children. While we know it was not what many people wanted to hear, we believe that it was the responsible decision.

Before that day in July and many times since I have been asked if this could be the end of high school sports as we know it. My first reaction is to ask if they have ever talked to one of our student-athletes or coaches, or any of those involved with education-based athletics for that matter, about why they play, coach or administer high school sports. Last year at this time we called attention to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) #MyReasonWhy campaign and I think it is time we did so again. We were reminded that our student-athletes play to have fun, be with their friends, and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Our coaches and athletic administrators do not do it for the money, but because they want to transform the lives of their student-athletes. School site principals and school district personnel continue to fight for education-based athletics as they witness first-hand the life lessons learned by their students and are acutely aware that student-athletes regularly have a higher grade point average, miss less school and have fewer disciplinary incidents than the overall student body.

Our schools clearly see the value of high school sports and we believe that when sports return to our schools, they will be embraced by the entire community like never before.

However, if we are not careful, we may be faced with another daunting decision this December. We implore everyone to wear a mask, practice good hygiene and social distancing so that high school sports may return to the fields, gyms, pools, tracks, and cross-country courses throughout California.

Education-based athletics is here to stay because it remains one of the greatest vehicles for teaching life lessons of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and good citizenship to our young people.

Anyone who doubts if high school sports will not only return when it’s healthier and safer to do so, but return stronger than ever, I encourage you to ask a student-athlete you know the following question: What is your reason for playing high school sports? Let’s all do our part to help make that reason a reality.