Sports

State’s health guidelines put basketball, wrestling in tough spot

basketball
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos and Mountain View High girls basketball teams compete in a game in January.

Based on the state’s public health guidelines for playing sports amid the pandemic, indoor basketball and wrestling are about as safe as eating inside a half-full restaurant.

No high school sports were dealt a bigger blow than those two under the directives released last week, which say that the more severe tier a county is in, the fewer high-risk athletic activities its residents can partake in.

Santa Clara County would have to be in the “minimal” (aka yellow) tier – the level at which restaurants, hotels, gyms, churches and movie theaters could operate at 50% capacity – for basketball and wrestling to start their seasons this spring. Considering that the county is currently in the most restrictive “widespread” (purple) tier, that won’t occur unless the number of COVID-19 cases and positive tests drop dramatically by March.

Mountain View High boys basketball coach Kevin Mack feared something like this would happen to his sport, with his concern growing as the virus spread like a drought-fueled California wildfire in recent weeks.

“I’m not surprised – it’s indoors and there’s contact. I get where they’re coming from,” he said. “But it’s disheartening for the kids. I feel bad for them.”

But Mack isn’t giving up on the season.

“I’m still optimistic,” he said. “The schedule had us starting the season in mid-March and starting league April 16, and that’s months away. With the vaccine out now, there’s hope that it will be available to all of us by then – and flu season will be over.”

Central Coast Section commissioner David Grissom is also holding out hope.

“We’re hearing that the vaccine could be readily available by April. Does that change the guidance?” he said. “It seems bleak at this moment, but it may change.”

Better odds for outdoor sports

Those playing high-contact outdoor sports – football, soccer, water polo and boys lacrosse – have a better chance of getting their seasons in. The California Department of Public Health placed them in the “moderate” (orange) tier, along with indoor low-contact sports such as volleyball, badminton and gymnastics.

But time isn’t on the side of football, volleyball and water polo; those sports were slated to start early next month. Expect those dates to be pushed back several weeks; the current state guidelines don’t allow any sport to be played prior to Jan. 25, though that timeline will be reassessed Jan. 4. The California Interscholastic Federation plans to revamp its schedules for Seasons 1 and 2 in early January, and Grissom said the CCS Executive Committee will meet Jan. 14 to discuss any changes and the fate of the Season 1 playoffs.

“It’s good to have guidelines – it’s a good step – and now decisions have to be made,” Los Altos High football coach Dave DeGeronimo said. “As a head coach, I really want answers by the first week of January. I’m tired of them kicking the can down the road.”

Like girls volleyball and water polo, football was moved from fall to winter as part of the CIF’s decision over the summer to delay sports due to the pandemic. DeGeronimo now wonders if football will be moved to the spring.

“It’s a possibility that it gets pushed to Season 2, but that’s my opinion,” he said. “I’ve told the players to expect the unexpected.”

Grissom doesn’t anticipate football switching seasons. The CIF’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommends football not be played beyond mid-April, because players need rest for safety reasons before the next season, he said, and the equipment may not be ready for use by fall.

“All the gear has to be reconditioned – it’s a process,” Grissom said. “It has to be shipped to a warehouse, and if every school is doing that, there’s concern that the gear won’t be back in time.”

More moves coming?

The CIF already moved boys volleyball to Season 2, and Grissom said the CCS has delayed the start of gymnastics until late in Season 1. Both sports didn’t have a season last spring.

The commissioner doesn’t foresee other sports changing seasons in the CCS, though he did not rule out the possibility.

“A section could choose to go in a different direction (than the CIF),” he said. “A league could, too, but when that happens, you’re forgoing any opportunity to take part in section and state playoffs.”

Questioning the logic

Mountain View High girls volleyball coach Dave Winn takes issue with the state’s guidelines.

“I’m all for putting health and safety as a high priority, but I’m definitely disappointed about the latest classifications,” he said. “College programs have been training and playing matches without any COVID outbreaks. (It’s a) given we have less resources at the high school level, but I think we could have found a way to play. These kids need a physical outlet and are missing out on too much right now.”

Student-athletes in several other sports have a greater possibility of returning to action this school year. Baseball, softball, field hockey and girls lacrosse have been placed in the “substantial” (red) tier as outdoor moderate-contact sports.

Five other high school sports are essentially guaranteed to return. Track and field, tennis, swimming and diving, golf and cross-country have been designated outdoor low-contact sports and placed in the “widespread” tier. All but cross-country are part of Season 2.

For coaches like Mack and DeGeronimo, there’s a lot less certainty about whether their teams will play at all. At this point, both would be happy just to get in a shortened season.

“Like a lot of coaches, I don’t care if we have playoffs – we just want to play some games,” Mack said. “Give us 10 games, 12 games, we’ll take it. I think the kids feel the same.”

DeGeronimo would like to at least try out Los Altos High’s new stadium lights.

“We have lights finally, and we’re excited to play under them. It would be a great way to send off the seniors,” he said. “Even if we just get to play Mountain View, that would be fun.”

For more information on the state guidelines – which also include youth league and recreational sports – visit tinyurl.com/y7rzshk3.

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