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High school sports postponed again as COVID cases rise
Harvest Bowl
It’s unknown when Turlock’s two rival high schools will meet again on the gridiron in Harvest Bowl action, as the California Interscholastic Federation announced Tuesday all sports have been postponed longer than originally anticipated (Journal file photo).

Amid another surge in coronavirus numbers throughout California, the governing body in charge of the state’s high school sports announced Tuesday that competition start dates are on hold — again. 

Over the summer, the Sac-Joaquin Section and 10 other high school sports jurisdictions collaborated with the California Interscholastic Federation to determine that education-based athletics for the 2020-2021 school year would begin with a modified schedule. Turlock Unified School District’s fall sports, including cross country, water polo and volleyball, were set to begin playing games later this month, while football games were slated to start on Jan. 8. 

As Gov. Gavin Newsom placed 94% of California in the most-restrictive purple tier earlier this month due to a rise in COVID cases statewide, teams originally anticipating to play soon waited anxiously to hear what guidance would be given to athletic departments. In a statement released Tuesday, the CIF informed schools, coaches and athletes that they do not expect the California Department of Health to release any guidance before Jan. 1, 2021, thus putting all full practice and competition start dates on hold. 

The CIF also opted to remove all Regional and State Championship events from the upcoming “Season 1” in order to allow all athletes a chance to participate in a longer season once allowed. In addition, boys volleyball was moved later in the school year, into “Season 2,” to avoid the loss of a second full season for the sport. 

“The CIF is confident this decision is a necessary and reasonable action for our member schools, student-athletes and school communities in light of the current statewide crisis,” the statement said. “This revision to the CIF State 2020-21 Season 1 Sports calendar offers our Sections and Leagues the flexibility and needed time to plan for the return to practice and competition once updated guidance is provided by the CDPH.”

In a memo sent to SJS school principals, administrators and athletic directors, section commissioner Michael Garrison called it the “understatement of the year” that the high school sports community — from coaches up to the CIF State office — is feeling frustrated. 

“If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that we are hearing that the State of California, by way of the return-to-activity document, will be providing a pathway for many of our sports to be played; as per county tier, high risk sports vs. low risk sports and indoor vs. outdoor sports,” Garrison said. “When the State releases those guidelines, we will provide direction for our member schools.”

TUSD’s football teams were set to begin “acclimation week” next Monday, starting first with helmets during practice and progressing into full pads by that Saturday. The teams will now continue with conditioning instead, which they’ve been participating in as part of small cohorts since June.

“The players are frustrated. There’s a chance some of them could lose their senior year,” Turlock High School varsity football coach James Peterson said. “The boys want to play and are continuing to work hard, stay in shape and do all of those things athletes do to keep their body prepared.”

While a normal conditioning period would also include strength training in the weight room, equipment would have to be moved outdoors and cleaned thoroughly in between each use, Peterson said. He has opted to help his players build strength through calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, he said, but the weight room atmosphere is missed — especially for players who may have been a few pounds of muscle away from a starting position.

“For a lot of kids, the weight room used to be their outlet,” Peterson said. “It was open for any athlete who wanted to come in. None of that’s available now.”

He added that as a coach with players who have given their all to the sport, it’s frustrating to watch plans put in place by the state for professional sports and other sectors while high school athletes are left behind.

“We’d love to hear, ‘Hey, here are the PPE protocols. You have to wear a mask at these times.’ If it’s relatively safe for the athletes, we’d love to hear that,” Peterson said. “We’re not trying to be unreasonable. I see what’s going on with the numbers in the county and in the hospitals. We get it, but we just want to know where this ends.”

For more information on high school sports and to see the postponed schedules, visit www.cifstate.org