Even with the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly holding all of the cards right now, Bakersfield and Taft colleges each pushed their respective chips to the center of the table on Monday.
It was a vote of confidence by the two local community colleges, which notified the CCCAA — the state’s athletic governing body — that they are opting in, signaling that they are committed to fielding teams for the Spring I sports schedule early in 2021.
“We are excited at the possibility of getting our teams back in action,” said BC's interim dean of kinesiology/athletic director Reggie Bolton in a news release. “Our student athletes and coaches have been working and training throughout the fall amidst COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines and are anxious to be able to compete again.”
That’s all assuming that it’s safe to do so.
As part of the CCCAA’s contingency plan football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, cross country, water polo and women’s golf are all slated to start practicing on Jan. 18. Competition is set to start on Feb. 5 in all sports, except football which can open its season on Feb. 13.
“I have been working very hard with my folks at Taft College to put together our Return to Athletics plan which includes screening and testing protocols along with disinfection plans,” said Taft athletic director Kanoe Bandy, who plans to field teams in women’s basketball, volleyball and women’s golf. “We wanted to be ready when the time came for us to safely compete. Although the competition schedule will be severely modified, it is critical that we get our student athletes engaged.
"Like everyone else, our student athletes have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. If we can get our students-athletes engaged they may choose not to give up academically and continue moving towards their academic goals and ultimately, completion of a degree.”
Bakersfield College benefited from similar commitment from it’s administration — specifically school president Sonya Christian.
“We’ve been in conversation for months on all of this,” volleyball coach Carl Ferreira said. “Dr. Christian, she’s the first person I think that you have to give the highest amount of credit to. Her and her staff have gathered all of the information, from the medical side of it and all different sources. And she’s been updating us every single week on everything regarding COVID.
“And it’s a big decision. I think it’s absolutely incredible that our administration is willing to give our student-athletes an opportunity to play. And they’re not going to let us play if it’s not safe. Everybody’s onboard to do what’s best for our student-athletes.”
Dahl was equally as thankful that she might still have an opportunity to coach her team, and that her players may have the chance to play this season. But she was quick to add that there is “still a lot of stuff that’s going to be able to happen, for it to happen.”
In addition to the obvious health concerns, even finding teams to play may be a challenge. A complete list of schools that have opted in and out is due to be released by the CCCAA later this week. Even if a pair of teams are available to play, there is concerns about consistent testing procedures and accountability among each school's safety protocols.
In the middle of all this confusion and uncertainty, Dahl said her team has found a way to unify their efforts. They’ve been working out on their own five days a week, checking in with each other everyday, with a “friendly-competition” albeit virtually.
“We’ve done an incredible job of being able to build a sense of community,” Dahl said. “And I think that’s something that’s so important with all of this. There’s a lot of people who feel isolated and alone, and with our team we’re building that sense of community and we’re working hard.”
Dahl added that the team’s dedication has carried over into the unknown, the uncertain times that likely lay ahead.
“Before we went on break I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” Dahl said. “I know the school is opting in, and I think that that’s fantastic, and we know they’re committed to doing whatever it takes to allow us to play. But if that doesn’t happen then I told them, 'I’m all in.' And each one of them (responded), ‘I’m all in.’ And that is what the blessing is.”
Ferreira added that the safest place for his student-athletes might just be on campus, practicing with their teammates. At least that’s the feedback he’s getting from his players.
“People are going to get COVID when they leave and go home, or from socializing,” Ferreira said. “Ninety-five-plus percent of their time is away from campus and practice, etc., so that’s where you need the highest level of education for the student-athletes.
“So if you’re going to do this, and you’re going to have the administration make this kind of commitment, then it’s really important for us, as coaches, to do a really good job of educating our student-athletes on reciprocating the commitment to being responsible away from campus. I think that’s a big deal.”
Although the CCCAA requested that each school either opt in or opt out by last Friday, schools can change their decision all the way up until the start of practice on Jan. 18, Ferreira said.
“I’ve been hearing the dialogue all along, and there’s been constant changes,” said Ferreira, who is a member of the state’s indoor and sand volleyball committees. “It’s been something that you really have to be adaptable, flexible, not dig your heels in regarding any one viewpoint. You have to be fluid about it. And if we’re opting in and something changes and it doesn’t work, then you just have to adapt and not worry about what you can’t control.”
Dahl is also at peace about the prospect of a season, whatever way it goes.
“No matter what the season ends up looking like ... I’ve got a bunch of athletes that are willing to put in the work," Dahl said. "And better themselves, and recognizing the importance of having each other. And I think that that’s just a huge lesson. And I think that it’s really, really important, for the whole pandemic … And I need to just focus on what we can to make the best of a very unique situation.”