XC race

They’re off – Scenes, such as this high school cross country race held at Spring Lake last September, will be delayed until no earlier than January 2021 under the new fall sports timeline set forth by the California Interscholastic Federation. Photo Michael Lucid 

Overlapping seasons will have big impact on multi-sport athletes

Last week’s announcement from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to delay the start of the fall sports season has been met with mixed reactions among players, coaches and administrators, with many weighing in this week. 

Although most agree that the road ahead will be challenging, nearly all concede that the new plan beats the obvious alternative — having no sports at all. 

“I think postponing the start of sports this year was both inevitable and necessary,” Analy Director of Athletics Joe Ellwood said. “There is no way anyone could justify putting athletes together in competition when we’re keeping the student body home for everyone’s safety.”

The CIF plan laid out on July 25 calls for most fall sports to begin official practices in mid-December, with games slated to start in the first week of January. Fall sports include football, cross country, girls volleyball and competitive cheer. 

Following the CIF ruling, the North Coast Section released its own version of the revised plan for the 2020-21 school year, including a schedule that in essence combines winter and spring sports into the same season beginning in March. 

“CIF/NCS rules have always allowed students to participate on more than one team at a time but the challenge will be managing practice and competition time so athletes do not get overwhelmed,” Ellwood noted. “The theme for the year will certainly be flexibility and I have a feeling that coaches will be very flexible in finding ways to make sure student/athletes get a chance to participate in multiple sports.” 

The winter timeline calls for soccer practices to begin on Feb. 22, with matches starting on April 4. Wrestling teams will begin practicing on March 8, and basketball teams will start practices on March 15, with the first games being played on April 21.

High school spring sports will be in direct conflict with winter sports, forcing may student/athletes to choose one sport or another. Most spring sports, including baseball, softball, track, badminton, swimming and lacrosse will start practices on either March 8 or 15 and games will begin in late April.  In addition, boys and girls golf and tennis will be played in the spring, beginning in March. 

“I have kids who regularly play multiple sports at the same time,” Windsor High School cross country and track coach Brandon Bronzan said. “Cross country is fortunate in that practicing together is usually not crucial and I'm able to assign workouts for them to complete on their own. If anything, having online school might give them more flexibility in their schedule.”

Facility use will be among the major obstacles for most schools, with administrators and coaches working closely to establish ample practice time and games schedules for all teams.  

School size will also play a role in how teams are affected, particularly when athletes are forced to decide between sports with overlapping seasons. 

“I think schools like Healdsburg and El Molino will be hardest hit because of our smaller enrollment numbers,” Healdsburg High School Athletic Director Brian Osborn said. “When athletes have to choose one sport or another it may make it tough to field complete teams, especially at the JV level.” 

Summer training programs

Most teams have been active with summer training programs for the past few weeks, meeting in small groups and following strict social distancing and health guidelines. 

“We just completed about four weeks of conditioning/drills (without footballs) in pods that include nine kids and one coach,” HHS football coach Dave Stine said. “We can begin training again when the school year begins in a couple of weeks.” 

Although most coaches remain optimistic about the new sports timeline, many still worry that things could change quickly if county health officials deem it necessary. 

“We’ve decided with the COVID numbers going up that we’ll have to shut down (summer workouts) next week,” El Molino volleyball coach Becky Sani reported. “We haven’t even been able to touch a ball all summer and I find it hard to imagine a volleyball match with social distancing and having to disinfect everything after each team plays.” 

In a year marred by closures, cancellations and disappointment, hope remains high that the natural order of things will soon be restored. 

“At this time student/athletes need something to look forward to, so we push ahead and make plans for starting in December,” Sani said.         


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