Sports are back after what county calls 'confusion' over restrictions

Cross Country
John Park/Special to the Town Crier
Now that the state and county have signed off on directives allowing high school sports to return this year, the SCVAL plans to start its cross-country season in two weeks.

In a span of about 28 hours last week, the county’s high school athletes went from believing sports would return this year to being told they wouldn’t and then finally that they were indeed coming back.

A day after indicating that they planned to follow the state’s new directives allowing youth sports to resume amid the pandemic, Santa Clara County officials told superintendents in a Jan. 26 virtual meeting that stable cohorts could only compete against one another if they remained 25 feet apart at all times.

That would probably work for horseshoes and cornhole, but not for the sports local high schools had anticipated playing as soon as the middle of this month.

Central Coast Section commissioner David Grissom said he was bombarded with calls and messages from stunned superintendents as they watched a slide show that included the county’s 25-foot rule.

“When that slide gets put up in the meeting of superintendents, I immediately received phone calls,” he said. “No one saw that coming.”

That includes Mountain View High athletic director Shelley Smith, part of an ad hoc committee that proposed a three-season sports calendar approved by the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League just days earlier.

“It was extremely frustrating,” he said. “We received constant reassurances (from the county) that we would be able to do this. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have come up with an alternate schedule.”

Los Altos High athletic director Michelle Noeth called the news “a roller-coaster ride” that took an emotional toll on those impacted at her school.

“It was a lot of unnecessary stress for everyone,” she said. “Starting with conversations with my football coach (Dave DeGeronimo), I continued conversations with other coaches to let them vent and check in.”

Changing course

Perhaps county officials were listening to the coaches and administrators who publicly called them out for imposing the restriction. The next day, the county changed course.

In a press release issued the evening of Jan. 27, the county’s public health department wrote:

“Today, to address confusion regarding the State and County directives regarding youth sports, the County updated and consolidated its directives to make clear that (1) competitions between teams is allowed in Santa Clara County to the same degree as allowed by the State, and (2) youth sports teams and other outdoor youth activities are not limited to 16-member cohorts.”

The department did not elaborate on the “confusion,” nor did it respond when asked by the Town Crier if feedback received from schools and the CCS factored into the reversal.

Grissom isn’t sure either, but said he did receive an explanation of why that slide was included in the meeting with superintendents. He was told that the 25-foot rule was part of a directive on youth sports imposed by the county Dec. 14 – a day after the state released similar guidelines for youth athletics.

“The explanation given to me was that it was already in place,” Grissom said. “It may or may not have been, but no one ever put the two directives together, that I’m aware of.”

What’s next

Now that Santa Clara is following the state’s latest directive – which says that a county’s tier (based on test positivity and adjusted case rate) determines which sports are allowed – athletic directors like Smith and Noeth can breathe a bit easier. Athletes playing SCVAL Season 1 sports – cross-country, girls golf, girls tennis and swimming and diving – were allowed to begin practicing Monday and can compete as soon as Feb. 15.

But, as Noeth pointed out, nothing is guaranteed.

“I am encouraged that we can get our students outside and working out together,” she said. “However, we all must realize that information is constantly changing, and what we can and cannot do has been going day by day or week by week.”

Such uncertainty is not lost on SCVAL commissioner Brad Metheany, who wasn’t all that surprised by what the county did – and undid – last week.

“I had warned the ADs and principals that we have to be careful – we’re in Santa Clara County, where things have been done in a more conservative way,” he said.

While it still may not be clear what led to the curveball the county threw at superintendents in that Jan. 26 meeting, Grissom is relieved the situation has been rectified.

“Part of me wants an answer to that question and part of me doesn’t care,” he said. “What I care about is that we’re able to move forward.”

Smith, also Mountain View’s football coach, said it’s imperative that the state and county do all they can to ensure youth sports will happen this year.

“The people suffering are the students – they’re down and out. They need to get out and play,” he said. “Forty states already proved you can hold sports competition without jeopardizing risk factors. We continue to think we’re above it.”

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