High schools gear up for complicated year of sports
High school athletic directors may feel like quoting Shakespeare as they size up their COVID-delayed world.
They are now in the winter of their discontent.
Cramming more than nine months of sports into a five-month calendar that now starts in December has presented daunting challenges in all corners of Santa Barbara County.
“I would have never imagined or prepared for this situation,” said Abe Jahadhmy, who’s entering his 17th year as the A.D. at San Marcos High School.
But Jahadhmy could also quote another British icon, Winston Churchill, while describing the collaborative response of the county’s team of rivals.
This will be their finest hour.
“I am so proud of my colleagues for stepping in, being so cooperative and caring for all the students by doing everything possible to make this into a positive situation,” he said.
Pat Cooney, who’s starting his 11th year as A.D. at Carpinteria High, said they’d been steeled for this difficult time by dealing with such recent disasters as the Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flow.
“The CHS Warriors have survived fire, floods, drought, incredible winds and the passing of pillars in the community,” he pointed out. “Each required adjustments and the support of many.
“Luckily, CHS has a staff of great coaches, a supportive administration and passionate members of the athletics community. It’s going to take an incredible team effort to successfully navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19.”
Charting contests, and even practices, has become a logistical nightmare for Cooney and his colleagues. The boys and girls teams in the sports of water polo, volleyball, golf and tennis normally compete at different times of the year, but they’ll have to play concurrently in 2021.
That creates a dilemma for a coach like Mark Walsh, who heads up the water polo programs for both genders at Santa Barbara High. Brian “Chuckie” Roth coaches only girls water polo at San Marcos, but he also runs both the women’s water polo and swimming programs at Santa Barbara City College. All those seasons now will be played at the same time, as well.
“We’re doing our best to schedule doubleheaders in league contests where we have a coach that’s responsible for multiple teams,” Santa Barbara A.D. Todd Heil said. “For example, we’re looking to schedule both our boys and girls Channel League water polo contests at one site with the varsity contests played back-to back.
“It’s definitely been a process, but I think as a league we’ve been doing a good job of understanding the complexities at each school and how to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the student-athletes.”
The problem is magnified, however, at smaller schools such as Carpinteria where coaches double up in more sports.
“It remains to be seen whether we can build a plan for them to continue or if we have to hire new coaches,” Cooney said. “The situation could force some tough decisions for those that coach and some real change in the makeup of the staff.”
Santa Ynez A.D. Ashley Coelho is putting a lot on the plate of one of her own coaches: Ashley Coelho. She serves as the head varsity coach for track and field and also assists the girls basketball team. She even coaches the wide receivers and defensive backs on the Pirates’ junior varsity football team.
“Spring season is going to be very busy for me, but if I’m busy that means kids are playing sports which is a huge positive,” Coelho said. “As of now, I plan to coach all three sports this year, like I did last year.
“We are all eager to make things work so kids can have their sports again. This will benefit their physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
The calendar change creates issues even for those who coach just one sport.
“They’re going to have to adjust their work and home calendars to fit the new calendar,” Bishop Diego A.D. Aaron Skinner said. “This year’s mantra is going to be something regarding flexibility… not only from an injury-prevention standpoint given the long break that these athletes have had from competition, but also from a coach’s, athlete’s and family’s perspective.”
Practices and even a few contests will begin just before Christmas break in some sports. Volleyball will be the first to start, with the boys opening play on Dec. 12 and the girls on Dec. 19. Football workouts can begin on Dec. 14 with the first Friday night games set for Jan. 8 (Lompoc will open on Thursday, Jan. 7).
“For football specifically, each individual needs 10 practice days before he can compete in a scrimmage or a game,” Skinner pointed out. “If they have plans to travel for a long period of time during the holidays, they may not be eligible to play in the first scrimmage or game.”
Spring sports will bring their own set of challenges, especially with transportation.
“We’ll have upwards of 18 sports competing at that time and getting them to all of their away contests can be a little head-scratching at times,” Heil said. “As we approach scheduling the league contests, we’ll need to utilize as many days of the week as we can to help alleviate transportation issues.
“We also need to be cognizant of the fact that we won’t be the only school needing transportation.”
Multiple-sport athletes will face some tough decisions now that their seasons are either overlapping or being played concurrently. Although it affects more athletes at smaller schools, it will also have repercussions at bigger schools.
“Keep in mind that the Channel League schools up north are smaller than Santa Barbara,” Jahadhmy said. “It’s a guessing game right now if they can field some sports or lower-level teams.
“The schedule will probably keep changing as we get the actual numbers.”
He is encouraging his coaches to allow their athletes to play two sports at the same time “if they can work it out.”
Those who get to play two sports will still face time-management issues, Cooney said.
“CIF maintains the rule that any athlete is allowed a maximum of 18 hours of training per week for all high school sports including clubs outside of school,” he pointed out.
All schools will be dealing with overcrowded athletic facilities, although Carpinteria faces the most complicated situation. The school is just starting a $4.5 million makeover of its gymnasium, and it won’t be completed until next year. The project will include remodeled locker rooms, restrooms and showers, as well as new bleachers, scoreboards, backboards, technology and lighting.
“We will borrow Carpinteria Middle School in the meantime, which will put serious constraints on the availability of gym time,” Cooney said. “The Citrus Coast League proposed playing boys and girls matches on the same day which would force start times of 1:30 p.m.
“Tennis courts face similar issues with daylight. We also use the Carpinteria City Pool for practices and games so finding a workable balance for girls and boys programs along with the community programs will be quite a task.”
Field space during the spring will be at a premium at all schools with football, track and field, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball all being played at the same time.
“In the spring, I can see — other than track practice — the stadiums only used for games,” Jahadhmy said. “We are looking at renting gyms, fields and using local junior high and elementary school fields.”
But the timing couldn’t have been better for the recent completion of Santa Barbara’s Peabody Stadium, as well as the turf-field installations at Lompoc and Santa Ynez. All of the Channel League’s stadiums now have artificial surfaces, making them available for maximum use.
“That could prove critical come the months of February, March and April, with rain as a possibility,” Heil said. “But space in general will be at a premium for us.
“We’re going to need to be creative when it comes to practices knowing that our stadium could be used four days a week for games.”
But the toughest change of all, Jahadhmy said, is that the situation is “ever-changing.”
“We get prepared for a certain situation, then it changes a week or day later,” he said.
He’s just hoping they’ll have a vaccine for that come winter.