The announcement of a first step toward returning to high school athletic activity spurred a jump for joy at Santa Barbara’s three major public high schools.
“The coaches and athletes are over-the-top excited,” San Marcos High athletic director Abe Jahadhmy said on Tuesday after Hilda Maldonado, superintendent for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, announced that a phased resumption of activity will begin on Monday.
Todd Heil, who was promoted this summer from boys soccer coach to A.D. at Santa Barbara High School, said the Dons are “excited to have the opportunity to finally get back together in person and start working out again.”
It will have been 23 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the California Interscholastic Federation to halt all high school sports activity in the state. The teams at several private schools such as Bishop Diego resumed workouts during the summer, but Santa Barbara, San Marcos, and Dos Pueblos have had to wait for district approval.
Monday’s resumption will include boys and girls athletes in the sports of football, volleyball, water polo, cross country, and sideline cheer. Their return is contingent, however, on an adherence to “health and safety requirements,” according to Maldonado’s statement.
“Athletic activity will be modified in accordance with the guidance provided by County Public Health and CIF, with a focus on skills training and conditioning,” Maldonado said in the statement. “Coaches will need to be tested prior to starting.
“Athletic Directors and principals at each site will communicate sports-specific details.”
All training must be conducted outdoors and be limited to conditioning and skill development with no shared equipment. Athletes are also required to work out in the same, small groups while maintaining physical distancing protocol.
Other sports can begin training “sometime in October,” according to the district release. Baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and wrestling will all open their seasons in either late February or early March.
San Marcos coaches and administrators met on Tuesday to plan their resumption of athletic activities.
“It has been very difficult because we have to get it right,” Jahadhmy said. “It is worth it, however. We will be working more hours to supervise the practices.”
Maldonado’s announcement left coaches and athletic directors scrambling to organize next week’s return.
“It’s definitely a challenge to get the student-athletes back onto campus, but it’s a challenge we’re excited for,” Heil said. “The biggest hurdle right now is attempting to help our student-athletes complete their clearance packets so they can begin conditioning workouts.”
All levels are part of the resumption, he added, although San Marcos football coach Jason Fowle said the Royals will probably start with just the varsity “to see how things go.”
“We’ll then hopefully have the chance to fold in the lower-level kids,” he added.
The CIF Southern Section announced last month that official practices, and even a few contests in several sports, will be allowed just before Christmas break. It set Dec. 14 as the first official day of football practice and Jan. 8 for the first Friday night games.
Volleyball will be the first sport to hold competition, with the boys playing their first matches on Dec. 12 and the girls following on Dec. 19. Water polo will have a Dec. 21 start date for the boys and Dec. 28 for the girls, while the first cross country meets are set for Dec. 26.
Fowle said he’ll need every minute to get his team organized after having 137 student-athletes sign up for football.
“It’s a great time for us, getting our culture built up to the point where we have such a large influx of players,” he said. “At the same time, it’s kind of tragic that we’ve built up all this goodwill and excitement but were unable to get on the field.
“Normally, we would’ve had a chance to evaluate our returning junior varsity and varsity rosters during the spring and summer, and we didn’t get any of that. We certainly graduated a lot of seniors, and we’re going to be young, but I really like the group we have.”
Fowle said that junior quarterback Joaquin Sandoval and senior end George Tracewell have helped keep their teammates engaged during the six-month pause of COVID.
“I’m removed from the situation based on the policies, but our virtual meetings have shown Joaquin to be a great source of motivation and inspiration in the way he sees things and communicates with his fellow teammates,” he said. “George is another one.
“I do like the makeup of this group. They’re really young but mature at the same time, and we have some mature leaders.”