Holding pattern – The California Interscholastic Federation announced that the official start of high school sports seasons such as volleyball, football and cross country have been pushed back to at least Jan. 1, pending a go-ahead from the California Department of Public Health. The delay further damages the prospects of a fall season. Photo Michael Lucid   

The prospects for a fall high school sports season sustained another body blow last week when the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) pushed back the earliest start date for official practices to begin to Jan. 1.

The announcement came as the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) postponed the issuance of guidance for youth sports, which was expected to be handed down this month.

The CIF, which includes 1,605 member schools and some 800,000 student-athletes in California, had held out hope that high school sports such as football, girls volleyball and cross country could begin practicing in mid-December. But the recent surge in COVID cases has made it unlikely that state and local health officials will give the green light any time soon.

“We don’t expect anything from the CDPH until after the first of the year,” Analy Director of Athletics Joe Ellwood confirmed. “I hope we can get something in this season but the longer we go the more the window closes. Fingers crossed.”

The recent CIF announcement also included the cancellation of all regional and state championship events, possibly allowing teams to play a longer regular season. 

Although not a surprise, the latest setback for youth sports has further complicated a disappointing time for athletes, coaches and fans.   

“My opinion is that we’ll probably need to get the county into the orange tier to begin playing football and volleyball,” El Molino Athletic Director Mike Roan said. “I think as we progress through the spring, outside low contact sports such as baseball, softball and tennis have a really good chance.  Let's get that vaccine rolling and get these numbers to drop.”

In the meantime, high school and other youth teams are allowed to continue off-season workouts, with the provision that strict health guidelines are followed.

“The North Coast Section will allow us to do what our county will allow, and that means conditioning only, outside with masks and social distancing at all times,” Ellwood noted.

While big-money sports such as college and professional football have been allowed to play, albeit with restrictions, high school and other youth-level sports teams have been largely sidelined this fall.

“Our students, families and coaches have answered the question, ‘What are you willing to do to play?,’” Windsor High School Athletic Director Jamie Williams said. “Whether it means wear a mask, practice fewer hours or even hold extreme discussions of playing varsity only this season, adding Sunday as a practice or game day option, the answer is anything. The NCS and CIF are not taking anything off the table right now in order to do their best not to cancel sports.”

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