When California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide order directing residents to shelter in place to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus in March of this year, it marked the end of the 2019-20 high school sports year, wiping out the spring sports season.
The question of “if” high school sports will return in California during the 2020-21 school year remains a big uncertainty due to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases across the state, but the question of “when” sports will happen, should they be allowed to, has been answered. At least for now.
On Monday, July 20, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), which governs high school sports throughout the state, announced its plans for a modified calendar for the 2020-21 school year, which essentially pushes the starting date for high school sports back to December 2020.
Shortly after, the Sac-Joaquin Section, one of 10 CIF sections across the state, announced it would follow the CIF’s modified calendar and released a more-detailed calendar for its member schools, which includes Amador, Argonaut and Calaveras high schools.
While many coaches and athletic directors around the Mother Lode League were under the impression that the Sac-Joaquin Section would offer the traditional three seasons of sports – fall, winter and spring – in a condensed format with shortened schedules consisting primarily of league games and then section playoffs, the section instead decided to condense all sports into two “normal-length” seasons, complete with section playoffs for all sports and even state or regional playoffs for many.
“This allows for a longer season, attempting to get them as close to normal as possible, eliminating any type of truncated season, and helps with the spacing between particular sports and the overlap of certain sports between seasons,” Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Michael Garrison said.
Season 1 (fall), which includes football, volleyball, cross country and water polo, will begin in December and run into March for most sports with football possibly extending all the way into April if a team does well in the section playoffs.
“I’m going to have to buy some cold weather gear,” Amador High School football coach Bill Baker joked in reference to the prospect of Friday night football games in the middle of winter.
Season 2 (spring) basically combined last year’s winter and spring sports into one season and includes boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, swimming, track and field, boys and girls golf, tennis and wrestling. The season runs from March through May – and into June for some sports with playoffs.
If Season 2 sounds like a lot of sports going on at one time, that’s because it is, presenting some big issues for small schools like those in the Mother Lode League, who rely heavily on multi-sport athletes. Student-athletes who in past years have participated in a winter season sport like basketball or soccer and a spring season sport like baseball, softball or track and field, will now have to choose one sport over the other or try to coordinate a way to do both at the same time.
Andre King, who will be a senior at Argonaut High School in the 2020-21 school year, played four sports last year – football in the fall, basketball in winter and was doing baseball and track in the spring before the season was cancelled – but he won’t have that same opportunity this year.
“I am glad that we have the opportunity to play … (but) I am afraid that it will come down to me choosing certain sports over others, especially with the possibility of going deep into the playoffs,” King said.
The glut of sports in Season 2 has already created a “recruiting war” of sorts between coaches at the same school, who are now competing for student-athletes.
“We need to make this work for athletes so they have the ability to play multiple sports in a season if they want to … (but) it’s going to be tough,” Calaveras High School Athletic Director Mike Koepp said.
“Understanding that this is a unique situation and nothing is going to be perfect, and I know they put a lot of hard work and effort into this decision, but I’m disappointed in what came out. My impression was that they were working on this with two ideas in mind; one, not impacting spring sports athletes like what happened last year; and also making sure there were three seasons of sport to give all athletes an opportunity to play their sports. I feel like they didn’t do a good job of either one.”
Amador High School Athletic Director Kaleb Cagle echoed Koepp’s sentiments about spring sport athletes getting the short end of the stick again with this modified calendar. After missing this past season, many will now be forced to choose between multiple sports this spring.
Sharing athletes among sports is just one of many obstacles high schools will have to deal with this school year, along with transportation, facility use and maintenance, making new schedules and having enough officials to work games as many officials also work multiple sports. And of course, there’s the question of what happens when someone gets sick during “regular-old” flu season?
“This is a really weird hand we’ve all been dealt, so we’re just trying to make things as normal as possible, but, let’s be honest, it’s not going to be normal,” Sac-Joaquin Section Assistant Commissioner Will DeBoard said. “We’re just hopeful we can get back to playing sports.
“Sports are absolutely an important part of everybody’s education. There are lessons learned in sports that you can’t learn anywhere else. We are going to do everything humanly possible to have sports this year. The only way there will be zero sports is if we get down the road and things are so rough that we just can’t.”
Of course, the biggest obstacle facing all schools across the state is getting the green light from their respective local health departments to safely resume athletic activities and competitions, something that likely won’t happen until the spread of COVID-19 across the state slows and restrictions are eased.
“There is still so much uncertainty,” Cagle said.
Despite a seemingly endless and growing list of unknowns, as Baker said, the chance that high school sports could return at some point this school year makes it all “a decent problem to have.”
“There are so many variables, I don’t know how to put it all in words, but we do have a date to start and that is a positive,” Baker said. “Everyone is in the same situation so we just need to find a way to make it the best out of it for our communities and find a way to get kids playing again, not just football, but all sports so we can give them something to look forward to.”