With the Coronavirus pandemic surging at its worst levels yet in the state, the California Interscholastic Federation announced on Tuesday that there will be no start of fall sports practices in the state in December as scheduled and that all fall sports state regional and state championships (including football) will be cancelled. An announcement like this was expected this week, but there is still a strong effort underway for fall sports athletes to be able to get their seasons played, even if it will be with a limited number of games.
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For several times during the start of the Coronavirus pandemic last March, there’s been a looming feeling across the state among media, coaches and athletes that there is a hammer that is about to drop. At each point, several weeks earlier, there was hope of practices to be held and games to be played according to schedule or norms, only to know that such hope gets beaten down by the drop of that hammer with everything cancelled and everything shut down as a response to the pandemic.
The latest hammer to fall came on Tuesday as the California Interscholastic Federation released an announcement that declared that all fall sports that were scheduled to begin with practices in some CIF sections as early as next week will be delayed until after January 1, 2021.
Furthermore, according to Tuesday’s CIF media release, in an effort to give the sections and local leagues/districts more flexibility in altering their schedules and enabling more student-athletes to play more games, all CIF fall sports regional and state championships have been removed and cancelled from the schedule. There was not going to be any CIF state football finals other than possibly the Open Division that would have been played anyway at the end of the projected 2021 winter season, but it was hoped that the Southern California and Northern California regional championships could happen.
The other sports directly involved are boys and girls cross country (extremely popular state meet in Fresno cancelled), girls volleyball (state and regional playoffs cancelled) and boys and girls water polo (regional playoffs cancelled). On Tuesday, the CIF also moved the boys volleyball season from fall/winter to spring (which has been its traditional season of sport).
Further decisions regarding CIF section calendars will be made in upcoming weeks so no January football games scheduled for the January 7-8 weekend were not given blanket cancellations. There is at least one school district, though, the Hart Unified High School District in Los Angeles County (Santa Clarita), that has cancelled all high school competitions through the end of January.
All one had to do was listen to Governor Gavin Newsom and State Public Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly the day before to know the dire situation that has arisen in recent weeks with the projections about the pandemic hitting unprecedented new highs for infections, hospitalizations, positivity rates and deaths in the coming weeks. One of the most eye-opening projections was that perhaps as early as next week ICU beds in Northern California will be at 134 percent of capacity.
WIth that knowledge, of course there was no way that high school sports, which already had been pushed back from its usual first practice start times from August to December, could be held with an abundance of caution for everyone involved.
“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 (California Department of Public Health).”
CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod, who oversees the state’s largest section by far, confirmed in a letter to principals and athletic directors that cancelling the first few weeks of the projected fall sports seasons in January would be the next step.
“If regular seasons are shortened, it would be at the front end of the season, keeping the back end of the season unchanged,” Wigod told the CIFSS community. “It is our intention for postseason play to be a destination for schools who are able to play this fall, even more so if regular seasons are reduced at the beginning.”
Wigod and other CIF section commissioners have always stressed that it’s ultimately the school districts themselves that determine when their schools can open safely for at least some in-person learning and then full athletic practices and games.
For more than several weeks in even the most hard-hit counties of the state, athletes have been able to gather in smaller groups to condition and workout. Some schools have cancelled those workouts this week, but others have been continuing.
Still, it’s impossible not to feel bad for those current seniors who keep having their last football season seemingly taken out from under them, with several strong tugs of the rug at a time.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” senior quarterback Perry Payne told FOX40 TV of Sacramento on Tuesday. “I just want to know where I stand and what I’m going to do. It’s been such a long time since we’ve played. We’re just really ready to play.”
Other student-athletes and their parents gathered at the State Capitol on Sunday (estimated to be about 200 people by the Sacramento Bee) for a rally designed to generate support for a “Let Us Play” movement.
It is important for everyone to hear those voices, but it’s perhaps it’s more important for everyone to adhere to the health directives given by public health officials. That’s why it is feared that in two weeks, since it doesn’t look like enough people stayed home for the Thanksgiving weekend, this current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations will only get worse.
From the good news department is that it also was mentioned on Monday by the Governor that California is looking at obtaining a first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines in perhaps just two weeks. That could be 327,000 doses.
Health care workers and nursing homes will likely get the first wave of vaccinations, but there are many public health officials who think teachers and schools should be after that. The pandemic will still be far from over once teachers and school staff are safe, but at least that part of California life (including high school sports) should be back on track.