Two big dominoes in the postponement of the high school sports seasons fell on Monday with both the Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified school districts announcing that they will not be reopening their campuses next month.
San Marcos athletic director Abe Jahadhmy, the dean of local sports administrators, admitted that those moves will likely affect the California Interscholastic Federation’s plans to resume high school athletic competition. The CIF State is expected to announce its plans by next Monday.
“Like all of us, we are frustrated and anxious to get going,” Jahadhmy said. “However, we all understand the well-being, safety and health of everyone is more important.”
The state’s rising number of coronavirus cases triggered Monday’s announcement from both LAUSD and SDUSD that they will be conducting all fall classes online “until further notice.” That move makes it prohibitive to hold practices — and, in turn, contests — in those CIF sections.
Several Northern California districts —West Contra Costa County, East Side Union in San Jose, and Oakland — have made the same decision.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Education will hold a public, online study session tonight to discuss its own reopening plans in advance of next Tuesday’s regular meeting. Dos Pueblos A.D. Dan Feldhaus expects the fate of such fall sports as football, girls volleyball, boys water polo, girls tennis, girls golf, and cross country to be clarified by then.
“From what I understand, they’ll give us some direction as to what school will look like,” Feldhaus said. “It could be online only, or fully back on campus, or a hybrid of the two.
“We all want to reopen campuses, but we also want to make sure everyone is safe, and that might take a while. But right now, we’re just sitting tight.”
The first Friday night of football games was scheduled for Aug. 21. The CCCAA — the state’s governing board for junior college athletics — has already moved all of its fall competition to the spring semester of 2021.
“Once we get a calendar from CIF, the six Channel League A.D.’s will probably meet and revise our athletic calendar,” Feldhaus said. “The schedules will probably be condensed mostly to league competition, although there might be a little room for non-league play.”
The Channel League was revamped for football this year to include Dos Pueblos, Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Oxnard, Pacifica and Rio Mesa. The Pacific View League will consist of San Marcos, Santa Ynez, Cabrillo, Buena, Ventura and Channel Islands.
Those schools have all been awaiting the CIF State’s announcement before beginning summer drills. Bishop Diego, which competes in the Camino League, is the only county school which has already started summer workouts.
“We have received more than a few positive comments from our families about getting the kids back in some capacity,” said Aaron Skinner, who recently took over as Bishop’s A.D. “I think people are realizing that the likelihood is that we will have some condensed or postponed season, and our coaches and athletes are starting to accept that.
“If we are postponed, I can tell you that, personally, it will be very strange to have my Friday nights during the fall open for the first time since middle school. I know my wife will be very happy.”
Todd Heil, who is also a first-year A.D. at Santa Barbara High, said this first crisis of his administrative tenure is “a doozy … The hardest part is the unknown.”
“I don’t see CIF using the identical California JC model,” said Heil, who coached the boys soccer team at Santa Barbara for the last two decades. “I think if they do move the start of sports to January, you’d see three seasons of sport that would last about 12 weeks with some overlap.”
Pat Cooney, athletic director at Carpinteria High School, said there are several logistical issues that make it difficult to return to competition anytime soon.
“California restrictions on transportation would only allow busses or vans to be filled to one-third capacity,” he pointed out. “This means that a 54-passenger bus can only transport 18 and a nine-passenger van can only transport three.
“Unless cleared parent drivers sign up to transport other student athletes, or parents commit to driving their own student athlete, it will be cost-prohibitive to transport teams to contests even within the tri-counties.”
It also would be difficult for schools to stay in competition within their traditional leagues, he added.
“So many leagues mix schools from neighboring counties,” Cooney said. “The COVID-19 guidelines for each county have already differed significantly, so it would take some thinking and planning outside the box.”
Moving all competition to the spring semester would put smaller schools such as Carpinteria and Bishop Diego at a disadvantage if the sports do cross over, he pointed out.
“It would force students to choose a sport over another,” Cooney said. “Carpinteria would have a difficult time fielding some boys and girls sports.
“Our small school has consistently discouraged specialization in one sport for years, so we would be in favor of clearly defined, abbreviated seasons.”
Skinner said he can’t imagine having an athlete play in a basketball game on Tuesday and Thursday and then suit up for a Friday-night football contest.
“Being a small school as it is, I think this would have a negative impact on some of our programs,” he said.
Overlapping seasons during the spring “is doable” but also problematic for larger schools such as San Marcos, Mr. Jahadhmy said.
“We will have to do a good job in sharing facilities,” he said. “My concern will be for the multi-sport athletes. We all care for the kids and will make it happen if it comes to it.”
The field space would be an even bigger issue at Bishop.
“The idea of having major overlap between soccer season and baseball and softball seasons are hard to wrap my head around,” he said.
The consensus of area athletic directors is that a “return to normal” is everyone’s greatest wish.
“The pandemic and shutdown is devastating for many reasons,” Cooney said. “In the big picture, school is so important to young minds and bodies that we want to find good ways for them to reconnect with academic, athletic and social aspects.
“Digital school doesn’t cut it for so many of our students and families. Coaches and teachers want to get back to the intrinsically rewarding work that motivates them. Athletics administrators everywhere are grinding through the summer months in an attempt to prepare for the word go.
“The good news is that we are all in this together. The bad news is that no one knows when the current situation will end nor what the new normal will be when it finally does.”