A sense of unease permeates high school sports landscape as start date nears

Courtesy Photo.

Could we possibly be getting closer to high school sports taking the field for the 2020-21 season before the winter solstice?

It would certainly be a welcome holiday gift.

When the State CIF Office voted in July to push the start of the upcoming fall season to mid-December practices and January games, the modified schedule was constructed as a plan if health conditions in the state warranted the late start.

It was devised as a plan provided all things were in place to proceed. It was not necessarily a guaranteed timetable.

Three months later, parents, coaches, student-athletes and administrators must be feeling a sense of frustration as the pandemic shows no sign of abating soon. Infection rates remain high as the county occupies one of the lowest reopening tiers in the state.

The opening date for practice for fall sports is Dec. 12. That’s still two months away, so there’s always hope that things could change for the better.

Some schools in San Diego County have already opened, in fact.

San Diego Section Commissioner Joe Heinz expressed a sense of optimism in an Oct. 5 letter to principals and athletic directors.

“As we move into October, we are hopefully moving in a positive direction in effort to resume our sports programs on Dec. 12,” he wrote. “CIF-SDS schools are now conducting conditioning workouts on their campuses following the appropriate health and safety guidelines recommended by state and local health authorities.

“I would like to thank our principals, athletic directors, and coaches for their ongoing commitment in guiding our student-athletes through these challenging times in a healthy and safe manner. We must continue to follow the advice of health professionals through the critical weeks ahead as our communities continue to open.”

The December start date is not far off, which has started to create a sense of uneasiness among some. Students have already begun to let their voices be heard: They want to go back to school.

The feeling among many coaches is that high school sports depend on in-school attendance. No fannies in classroom seats equates to no cleats on the playing field.

Among the 19 schools granted waivers by the county in late August to reopen, nine field high school sports teams: Christian High School, Calvary Christian Academy, Francis Parker School, La Jolla Country Day School, Ocean View Christian Academy, Santa Fe Christian School, The Bishop’s School, The Cambridge School and The Rock Academy.

Christian High School is located in El Cajon while Francis Parker, La Jolla Country Day and Bishop’s all draw a segment of their student populations from East County.

Many more schools in the region are in the process of reopening in phases, with a combination of in-person and distance learning, while other districts remain committed strictly to online learning through the end of the year.

But what is the so-called “new normal” and when will it happen? A lot depends on the health and safety protocols being met, of course.

Outdoor classes to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus, small class size, social distancing, mask-wearing (for older students) and testing of staff all factor into the equation.

It’s an encouraging start, even if it only means that high school sports are on schedule to hit the planned winter start date.

But there are still a lot of unknowns and unanswered questions.

What happens if a student-athlete tests positive for the virus? Will he/she simply be removed from the team roster or will the entire team be penalized?

How effective can contract tracing be in high school where being social is the norm? Can minors be tested for the virus without parental consent?

Heinz said the section’s health and safety committee had set an Oct. 14 meeting date to start “discussions regarding potential proactive Return to Play health and safety measures” to share with member schools.

“We are still awaiting any official guidance that may be required from the California Department of Health or State CIF office,” he wrote in the Oct. 5 memo. “We hope to be able to provide some resources to our section schools to begin the planning process for the start of Season 1 on Dec. 12.”

College and professional sports teams have started to test these precarious waters, hoping for the best.

The National Hockey League and National Basketball League got through playoff tournaments by playing in a protective bubble.

Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the National Football League have attempted a “safe” return to the playing field, yet all leagues have had to postpone or cancel games due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

High school sports likely cannot play in a protective bubble.

Master calendar

Badminton, field hockey, boys and girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo can start playing games on Dec. 19, though gymnastics, roller hockey and cross country cannot begin official competitions until Dec. 26.

Football games are scheduled to kick-off on Jan. 8, with teams playing 10 games in 10 weeks. The regular season is scheduled to end on March 12, followed by the start of the section playoffs on March 19.

A sense of unease permeates high school sports landscape as start date nears