New sports schedule comes with tough choices

Isabella Walker
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
Moving sports traditionally played during the winter season, like soccer, to the spring season creates conflicts for two-sport athletes such as Mountain View High’s Isabella Walker, above, who also runs track.

The California Interscholastic Federation’s decision to delay the start of high school sports until the winter and consolidate them into two seasons poses problems not only for section commissioners, athletic directors and coaches throughout the state, but also for many two-sport athletes now forced to make tough choices.

Athletes like Los Altos High senior Brock Susko, whose two sports – baseball and basketball – come into conflict under the pandemic-fueled plan the CIF unveiled last week. Does he choose one or attempt to play both next spring?

“I’m not sure what I am going to do,” said Susko, a starter on both teams. “It’s an unfortunate situation, and I need to think about what is best for me and my school.”

If Susko does try to play two sports at once, Los Altos baseball coach Gabe Stewart won’t stand in his way.

“I support multisport athletes and will respect any decisions that players will have to make between two sports,” Stewart said. “My sincere hope is that something may be worked out for these unprecedented times to allow dual participation where possible, especially for any seniors. … I think in this era, coaches would be willing to work together to make that happen where the logistics allow. I would hate for any of my players to lose two seasons of their high school career in any sport.”

While playing two sports in the same season is permissible in the Central Coast Section, new commissioner David Grissom questioned how feasible it is do so.

“It’s awfully difficult to play two at the same time,” the former Mountain View High principal said. “Basketball and baseball, for example, play multiple games each week. At some point, you have to make that decision.”

The decision is even tougher for athletes like Mountain View junior Isabella Walker, who will have three of her teams playing at the same time now that soccer has been moved from winter to spring. The Spartans’ soccer season collides with her club team’s (the CCS has temporarily suspended a rule prohibiting athletes from playing on an outside team during their high school season), and that makes it nearly impossible for her also to run track for Mountain View.

“I have seen the schedule, and if I indeed had to choose, it would be very hard for me and many others who are in the same position,” she said. “I don’t think it is fair that they did it like that. I think they should have shortened each season and still had three separate sports seasons.”

Implementing the plan

Grissom acknowledged that “each scenario is fraught with its own issues,” but he supports the CIF’s two-season plan. Now, he has to implement it in a wide-ranging section with 152 high schools.

“To make sure we get back on the field in a safe manner, we’re working closely with the health departments,” he said. “But there are six county health departments (within the CCS), and that itself is a challenge.”

There are also venues to procure for CCS playoff contests that must be rescheduled for more than 20 sports.

“We’re working on that right now,” Grissom said in the middle of last week. “It’s quite an undertaking, to be honest.”

As is rescheduling regular-season games, meets and practices – a task that falls to athletic directors and their coaches. Mountain View athletic director Shelley Smith said he and the other ADs in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League plan to meet this week to talk schedules.

“It’s a massive undertaking, and we have to start over with the officials,” Smith said, referring to securing referees and umpires for home games. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

There may be no bigger job than finding enough field and court space at the local schools. Stadium lights slated to be installed by November will allow for more practice time on Mountain View’s turf field, according to Smith, but the gym isn’t getting any bigger. He said the Spartans won’t have a freshman boys basketball team next year because court time will be in short supply.

Field space is even more limited at Los Altos, which is also expected to have stadium lights before winter (athletic director Michelle Noeth did not respond to the Town Crier’s request for comment before deadline).

Coaching concerns

Smith also may need to hire more coaches, he added, because Mountain View has a few of them who coach multiple sports that are traditionally played in different seasons. Xavier Cook – who guides the Spartans’ girls basketball and softball teams – is among those affected by the CIF’s plan to play both sports next spring. So is Frank Smyth, who coaches the girls and boys tennis teams that typically play in the fall and spring, respectively, but will now both start their seasons in March.

Sports that are part of what the CCS is calling “Season 1” – football, volleyball, water polo, field hockey and cross-country – will be allowed to start practice Dec. 14 and compete in games/meets as early as Dec. 28. The timing is less than ideal, Smith noted.

“The first week of practice is first-semester finals, then we have holiday break,” said the AD, who is also Mountain View’s football coach. “We have to ask families to stay home, and it may be a challenge to keep the kids focused. But the good news is that we hopefully get our season in.”

COVID-19 could change that, of course. If the pandemic is raging in December or there’s a flare-up in January, Season 1 may be done. Grissom said he doesn’t envision pushing the Season 1 sports into Season 2 – with one exception.

“We’ll try to keep boys volleyball,” he said. “That’s the one sport in the first season that lost out on its entire season this year.”

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