Local high school coaches and players have plenty of practice — both figuratively and literally — circling important dates on their collective calendars.
It might signify the first day of practice or a season opener. Maybe it’s a reminder of a big preseason matchup or prospective league rival.
But in the middle of the summer? Not typically.
However, very little is typical these days following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
Monday, July 20 has taken on new significance for high school athletes, coaches, athletic directors, administrators and their families all across the state. It's the date the CIF is scheduled to announce when prep athletics can resume.
Spoiler alert: There isn’t really any suspense. The CIF is expected to announce all fall sports will be moved to January. That became apparent when most school districts, including the Kern High School District, decided to open the 2020-21 academic year with a distance-learning curriculum.
“It does seem like the handwriting is on the wall,” said Ridgeview football coach Rich Cornford. “If we’re not going to have students in school for the first quarter, I can’t see having football practice at that time.
“I’m still hopeful that we can get something in. I think football is important for a school community, but if there’s not really a school community then it doesn’t make a ton of sense to play. But, boy for these kids, especially the seniors, my heart goes out to them.”
Stan Greene, director of school support services for the Kern High School District added, “Essentially they are going to tell us, ‘hey, here’s when the seasons of sport are going to be.’ And based on what I see from around the state, it’s clear the seasons are going to start in January. I don’t see any way around it. I mean you just look at what everyone else is doing and then you look at the fact that schools are going to be in distance learning, which is not conducive to athletics in the fall.”
Regardless, all eyes and ears will be on the CIF’s state office Monday. An initial announcement with prospective schedules is expected around 9 a.m., followed by an official statement around 10 a.m.
“For most of us, we’re just excited that it looks like, as of now, every athlete is going to get a chance to play their sport this year,” said AJ Shearon, North High athletic director and boys basketball coach. “The seasons are definitely going to be shortened and we don’t know what it’s going to look like as far as competition and traveling and all those things, but every athlete is going to at least get the opportunity to compete in their sport. So that’s what’s really encouraging for us and I think something that we can kind of look forward to and build toward once we get this announcement out and we get these details.”
Those details, which figure to include dates that teams can start practice, when the season will start and when it will end, is what coaches have been trying to prepare for the past several months.
“This is unprecedented,” Centennial football coach Richard Starrett said. “And when you deal with things that have never happened before, it’s going to be a little frustrating because there’s always decisions that need to be made that are based on volumes of people. Any time people are put in situations where they have to make decisions based on that many kids and that many adults it’s tough.
"I’m going to do whatever they say to do and I’m going to try to produce the best product on the field for my kids and just try to get it going in the right direction. Honestly, I just want a decision to be made, and I think that’s probably where a lot of people are at right now.”
Cornford is part of that majority.
“I would take anything that they would give me right now,” he said. “I’d take a four-game season, a three-game season, just something. I miss football, I can tell you that.
“The hardest part is not knowing exactly what the model is going to be. You can drive yourself crazy trying to think about a hundred different contingencies. So I’ve just been focused on encouraging my kids to be working out, to hold each other accountable, in that regard … If they had us go in just over a week from now, I mean, we’d jump right into it and do what we’ve always done.”
Mira Monte volleyball coach Jenae Long has made a few contingency plans to help keep players focused. She's concerned about the impact the absence of fall sports may have on her team.
“It’s a unique situation at Mira Monte,” Long said. “I know they look forward to getting back into the swing of things and getting back into a routine. They look forward to having somewhere to have to be from 7:30 in the morning until 6 at night. It’s their outlet, it’s their escape from some realities that they may not enjoy when they’re at home. I think that’s what bothers us more than anything right now at Mira Monte, is that we don’t get to be their outlet right now.”
There's also concerns about the length of the seasons, limitations on opponents teams can schedule and the impact on multi-sport athletes.
“You hear things trickling out from other sections, where they’re just playing league (opponents),” Shearon said. “And then the league winner goes to playoffs. I don’t know if that’s the case statewide or if that’s CIF’s recommendation. The other component is the overlap of the seasons of sport. There is for sure going to be some overlap where kids that may have traditionally played a fall sport and a winter sport and a spring sport, might either have to choose or get very particular about how they’re allocating their time.”
While the finer details are important, Shearon understands Monday’s announcement means little if the COVID-19 numbers don’t improve.
“My fear is that people here, ‘yeah, we’re starting in January’ and that’s a rock solid date,” Shearon said. “But if the COVID numbers look like they do now in January, we’re not going to have sports at all. So what I think is important is that all of us in the community that care about sports … if we don’t do a better job of handling that, we’re not playing in January either.
"This is just the CIF putting forth a best case scenario. No one is playing if we don’t get a better hold on this. I hope that people understand that when the CIF says we're playing in January. And that would be devastating for all of us who love local athletics.”