An administrative game of “Kick The Can” is the only sport being played now in California’s high schools, and that can has been kicked further down the road.
This year’s start of high school sports, already delayed by four months over concern of COVID-19, has been postponed again for more than a month by the California Interscholastic Federation.
“Obviously the message from CIF wasn’t what we had hoped to hear,” Santa Barbara High athletic director Todd Heil said. “But given the fact that we have yet to receive any updated youth sports guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“Without updated guidelines for youth sports, competition can’t be held in California.”
Athletic officials around the state remain optimistic that fall sports will be held at some point in the first quarter of 2021. Rob Wigood, commissioner of the CIF’s Southern Section, said he is determined to conduct postseason playoffs for those sports. They include football, girls volleyball, boys and girls water polo, and cross country.
“If regular seasons are shortened, it would be at the front end of the season, keeping the back end of the season unchanged,” he said. “It is our intention for postseason play to be a destination for schools who are able to play this fall, even more so if regular seasons are reduced at the beginning.”
He expects to give another update on the situation on Jan. 19.
Local athletic directors also remain hopeful for at least a partial season for fall sports. The widening pandemic and California’s looming stay-at-home, however, have made that prospect more worrisome.
“People care a great deal about this great big problem,” Carpinteria A.D. Pat Cooney said. “Unless the COVID-19 environment improves dramatically, it is just a problem in theory.
“Though the challenges will be many, we hope to have the real opportunity to face those challenges and to provide meaningful programs for the students. As time passes, what is best for kids will become apparent.”
Several sports were set to begin competition this month, with boys volleyball expected to be the first to play on Dec. 12. The CIF decided this week, however, to move the start of that sport back to March in its “Season 2” to improve its chances for a full schedule.
“Those kids deserve a chance to have a full season given that they lost their season in the spring,” Bishop Diego A.D. Aaron Skinner said. “This obviously provides some additional logistical challenges, given that both boys and girls basketball are set to play in that same season.”
It’s not as dire a situation for the Cardinals, who have two gymnasiums, as it is for Carpinteria, which currently has none. The Warriors’ gym is in the midst of a $4.5 million makeover that won’t be completed until next year. The project includes remodeled locker rooms, restrooms and showers, as well as new bleachers, scoreboards, backboards, technology and lighting.
“Fitting all levels of boys and girls basketball and possibly boys volleyball into the Carpinteria Middle School gym is going to require some ingenuity,” Cooney said. “It could be that we will see volleyball-basketball doubleheaders and some of our practices will need to be outside.”
Nearly every school in the area has male athletes who play both volleyball and basketball. Smaller schools such as Bishop and Carpinteria may have more difficulty fielding full teams when those sports are played at the same time.
“With the potential for 15 sport offerings in the 2021 spring season, our multi-sport athletes will be forced to choose,” Cooney conceded. “Trying to field 15 varsity sports from a pool of about 600 students will be interesting to say the least.
“The student-athletes will require creative and committed support from the school and coaching staff. The best interest of the students needs to be the driving force.”
Bishop plans to be as accommodating as possible.
“We are supporting all of our athletes who wish to participate in multiple sports in the same season, and will continue that support with this announcement,” Skinner said.
But players and coaches from the delayed fall sports worry that the worsening coronavirus situation will cancel their entire seasons. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his stay-at-home order for each of California’s five regions will be enacted once the ICU hospital capacity in that region falls below 15% — a situation that is expected soon in each region.
The high school football season, which was scheduled to open the weekend of Jan. 8, may not be able to start until February at the earliest since it must conduct two weeks of practice in pads before playing games. Some coaches are now anticipating conference-only schedules.
“CIF has made reference to prioritizing league schedules, due to their requirements for qualifying for playoffs,” Skinner said. “I do anticipate that if we are allowed to compete versus schools from other counties, that we will need to prioritize the scheduling of our league games.”
All county schools have returned their sports conditioning back to the strict protocol of phase 1. The Lompoc Unified School District did cancel all workouts at Lompoc and Cabrillo high schools on Wednesday but reversed that decision on Thursday.
“We have been working collaboratively with Santa Barbara County Public Health and California Interscholastic Federation to adhere to best-practices to keep the student athletes protected,” said Brian Jaramillo, LUSD’s executive director. “Currently, even with the governor’s stay-at-home order, outdoor activities are allowed, provided there are stable cohorts and all other requirements outlined by SBCPH and CIF are followed.”
He added, however, that some of Lompoc High’s teams will remain sidelined “due to some staff members having been exposed to confirmed positive cases of COVID-19.”
The county’s athletic directors, meanwhile, continue to encourage their coaches and athletes to remain patient and committed.
“We are being consistent in our message to our student-athletes that we can’t focus our energy on events or decisions that are out of our control,” Skinner said. “We can instead focus our energy on our response, which we can control.
“I believe that our student-athletes and coaches have done a great job of focusing on the control-ables and making the most out of the cards that we are dealt.”