Local high school football could resume full-scale workouts next week and start playing games by March 26 in a best-case scenario discussed by Channel League athletic directors.
“There is a thought of playing four games, and a scrimmage the week before,” San Marcos A.D. Abe Jahadhmy said following a video conference between the league’s administrators on Tuesday. “It’s all up in the air. We will meet again next week.”
They called Tuesday’s conference after the California Department of Public Health released new guidelines for youth and high school sports on Friday. High-contact sports such as football, which have been allowed only conditioning workouts without equipment, can open official practice once a county reaches a COVID-19 case rate of 14 or lower per 100,000 residents.
Santa Barbara County’s case rate dropped to 16.9 per 100,000 in Tuesday’s count.
“If we get there by March 9, we could get four games in,” Santa Barbara High A.D. Todd Heil said. “If by March 16, then three games.
“Every Tuesday (when COVID numbers are released) for the next few weeks is going to be a nerve-wracking day.”
Bishop Diego High A.D. Aaron Skinner, whose football team competes in the Camino League, said student-athletes and their families are constantly asking where they can access the county’s COVID case rate.
“Everyone’s been waiting on the edge of their seat for so long that everyone’s ready to dive in and do what they need to do to make this happen,” he said. “I’ve said this all along, that even if we can only get one game in, it is worth it to our seniors who have been dedicated to this school and community for the last four years.
“They started off their time at Bishop either watching or being a part of a State Championship. They deserve the opportunity to end their senior season on the field, not on the practice field.
“We also have a number of underclassmen who have goals to play at the next level, so any film is incredibly valuable for them to have an opportunity to achieve that goal.”
The Channel League, which had formed an association that mixes its schools with the Ventura County’s Pacific View League, will revert to its former alignment of all-Santa Barbara County schools (Santa Barbara, San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo) for this spring.
The situations at Bishop Diego and Carpinteria, which competes in the Citrus Coast League, are more complicated since their conference rivals are all outside Santa Barbara County.
Skinner said the Cardinals are still awaiting approval from Ventura County to compete against Camino League rivals St. Bonaventure, Camarillo, Moorpark and Newbury Park.
“If we get the green light on March 2, then we could complete a five-game season,” he said. “We’d love an opportunity to schedule some more local games given the circumstances.”
The Citrus Coast League actually spans three counties.
“Even though the state guidelines allow schools from adjacent counties to play, counties have not permitted it to date,” Carpinteria A.D. Pat Cooney said. “Our cross-country team just missed a no-contact time trial event held at Nordhoff because Ventura County Public Health denied appeals.”
The Channel League will begin an abbreviated cross-country season on Saturday when Dos Pueblos plays host to Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez races against Cabrillo.
Other dual meets have been scheduled for March 6 between Santa Barbara and San Marcos, as well as Santa Ynez and Lompoc. March 13 will feature meets between San Marcos and Dos Pueblos as well as Lompoc against Cabrillo. There will be no league championship meet or CIF postseason competition.
Cooney said that Ventura County Public Health would open the door for Carpinteria to compete in the CCL once Santa Barbara County reaches the 14 cases per 100,000 threshold.
“Still, some districts have said that their school will not have transportation beyond county lines,” he added.
The late start of the fall sports season has created other logistical problems for local athletic directors.
“Scheduling field space will be a challenge with the overlap of football with the spring sports,” Dos Pueblos A.D. Dan Feldhaus pointed out.
The stadiums at San Marcos, Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos will be jammed with the practices and games for football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, and track and field. Jahadhmy said San Marcos will need to use field space at local junior high schools since 18 of its varsity and underling programs call Warkentin Stadium home.
“Staging actual football practices and games is going to be quite challenging under the updated guidelines,” Heil said. “But I know our coaching staff and our athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to get the opportunity to get some games in.”
Cooney said the overlap issues at Carpinteria are not solvable.
“We simply do not have the facilities nor the students to support 18 simultaneous programs,” he said. “The release of the state guidelines just exacerbates the issue.”
The Channel League’s athletic directors plan to seek guidance from the district about how to administer COVID-19 testing for athletes and coaches.
“Safety for our players, coaches, staff is of utmost importance,” Feldhaus said.
The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District sent a letter to parents announcing that it would begin its testing next week if the county reaches the 14-per-100,000 threshold.
“It has been hard having uncertainty whether we would have a season or not,” Jahadhmy said. “At least now we know and we are all preparing to get back and play some games.
“The players and coaches are happy and excited about being able to play again. It is important to get games this season, especially for our seniors.”
Emotions are also riding high at Santa Barbara High with the anticipation of unveiling the reconstructed Peabody Stadium.
“There’s definitely a sense of excitement to get back in pads and on the field given that Friday’s updated guidelines have an attainable metric,” Heil said. “It’s up to us as a community now to help get us there so these student-athletes can compete this year.”