It was one of the last conversations Mountain View High football coach Shelley Smith wanted to have with his team, especially via Zoom.
But he was compelled to tell his players early last week – on the day Santa Clara County tightened its health orders because of the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases – that conditioning was suspended and practice would not begin as scheduled Monday for the school’s Season 1 sports teams.
“You should have seen our kids’ faces when we told them we were shutting down,” he said. “It took all the motivation out of their systems. You could see it suck the life right out of them.”
Austin Flax was one of those disappointed faces. While the senior said he wasn’t shocked by the Nov. 30 announcement – Flax was well aware of the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the county – it still stung when his coach told the team the season would be delayed.
“Yeah, it was definitely tough,” he said. “Mason Davies, who is one of our captains, always has some way of keeping us going, but he was pretty quiet like the rest of us. Definitely hard for us knowing that all we can do is try to be ready if we get the call.”
They were dealt another blow a day later. The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school athletics in the state, announced that it did not expect Season 1 practices and competition to begin until after Jan. 1.
Not only that, but the CIF also stated in the press release that it was canceling regional and state playoffs for Season 1 – impacting football, girls volleyball, water polo and cross-country – to give teams more time to play their regular seasons. In addition, the CIF moved boys volleyball to Season 2, set to start in the spring, in hopes of avoiding the loss of back-to-back seasons.
Central Coast Section commissioner David Grissom agrees with the CIF’s actions.
“I think it was the right decision and allows each of the 10 sections in the state of California to go on a slightly different path, if necessary,” the former Mountain View High principal said. “It also gives teams more time to complete a league season.”
That’s a high priority for the league representatives Grissom has spoken with since taking the reins of CCS last summer.
“From the very beginning of all this, the league commissioners’ desire was to get league competition in,” he said.
And though Season 1 teams in his section won’t compete in Northern California or state playoffs, the CCS playoffs remain on the docket for football, girls volleyball, water polo, cross-country and field hockey (a sport without regional and state tournaments).
“On paper, we’re still planning on it,” said Grissom, adding that he expects the CCS Executive Committee to discuss the postseason at its Jan. 14 meeting.
The commissioner wouldn’t speculate whether Season 1 sports teams would be playing – or at least practicing – by then because neither can happen without direction from the state’s public health department.
“The county order from Santa Clara didn’t change anything for us, per se,” Grissom said. “We couldn’t open practice anyway without guidance from the state. The governor has said he’s signed it but put it on pause. We’re in a waiting pattern.”
To condition or not?
However, conditioning was allowed to continue under the county health orders that went into effect Nov. 30 – a point Grissom made in a memo sent to schools prior to the regional stay-at-home order announced Friday afternoon.
“There’s no guidance to limit or stop that, and I wrote to schools that exact fact,” he said. “There is no language to reduce cohorts or conditioning. The language from Santa Clara County says practice social distancing, wear mask and those things. But it doesn’t mean districts can’t be more restrictive; they have every right to be, if they’re not comfortable.”
Count the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District among the uncomfortable. Superintendent Nellie Meyer last week paused conditioning at Los Altos and Mountain View highs, which have each recently reported a few COVID-19 cases among its student-athletes.
“This was based on our positive cases and the CIF postponing the athletic season,” she said. “Many of our league counterparts in neighboring districts are doing the same. We also know public health projects increased (infection) numbers within our community in the next few weeks.”
St. Francis High announced Dec. 1 that it would continue to hold conditioning sessions, though the regional stay-at-home order that went into effect Sunday may alter those plans.
Smith, who also serves as the athletic director at Mountain View, hopes conditioning will resume soon at his school.
“I was a little disappointed to hear that (it was suspended), but I understand,” he said. “I believe we can do this with a safe approach, and I hope they give us an opportunity to start it up again.”
Meyer didn’t rule that out.
“I appreciate the positive benefit of physical activity, and we are in the process of evaluating all of our cohorts,” she said. “If conditions allow, we will consider reopening cohorts that have been paused.”
Los Altos High volleyball coach Peter Kim is eager for that day to come.
“I would like to be doing that again,” he said. “I know it’s better to be safe than sorry, but we’ve been doing it since the summer – it’s outside and only conditioning. It’s good to get the kids out there.”
Change of seasons
Kim is also impacted by the CIF’s decision to push boys volleyball to Season 2 – but in a good way. Now he won’t have to juggle coaching the girls and boys teams at the same time.
“It solves a couple problems for me,” he said. “I don’t know how I would have done both.”
The move to Season 2 does create another dilemma, though.
“Volleyball, basketball and badminton will be going on at the same time, so we’ll have to figure out how to get everyone in the gym within five days,” he said. “I think Saturday will have to be an option.”
And with only the main gym available (the small one is being renovated), rescheduling games and practices could be a headache-inducing task for Los Altos athletic director Michelle Noeth. At this point, however, Noeth is more concerned about getting Season 1 back on track.
“I am remaining optimistic that we will have some form of Season 1,” she said.
If Season 1 is scrapped, don’t expect all those sports to join boys volleyball in Season 2. Grissom said only gymnastics is being considered – because so few schools have teams – and that decision could be made at the section’s Jan. 14 meeting.
The only other way a sport could move to Season 2 is if a league chose to do so on its own, knowing there would be no CCS playoffs at the end.
“The leagues could decide to move on with a sport,” Grissom said. “They have the right to do that.”
With that scenario unlikely, Season 1 student-athletes like Flax are left clinging to the hope that the virus is contained as rapidly as it spread the last month.
“I think the only thing I can do is be optimistic and keep working,” he said, “because this isn’t in our hands and we just need to stay positive and ready.”