(KSEE/KGPE) — There is still hope for some sort of high school football season in the Central Valley, but there definitely will be no Central Section playoffs this season for football, cross country, girls volleyball and water polo.
In a letter sent to Central Section schools, Section commissioner Ryan Tos making that announcement Tuesday, saying the current health guidance from the state only allows competitions between bordering counties, so Section championship events in those sports is impossible.
According to the letter, the football season must conclude by April 17, 2021 for the 2021 fall season to begin as scheduled this fall (July 19).
As of right now, no high school sports in the Central Section are being allowed, because of the current regional stay-at-home order in place for the San Joaquin Valley, due to the region’s ICU capacity being at less than 15 percent.
When, and if, that order is lifted, there are other hurdles to overcome before football can begin playing again.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released guidance on the possible return of high school sports in December, and the return is directly related to a county’s COVID risk, which is being defined by the CDPH’s four-color tier system.
For football to return to action, according to the guidelines, the Section’s counties would need to have their COVID numbers decrease to the point, where they could be in the moderate “Orange Tier” (Tier 3), two steps below the current widespread “Purple Tier” (Tier 1).
But a group of football coaches from the Central Section has formed the Coalition of San Joaquin Valley Coaches, joining forces with their colleagues across California, in order to push for other ways to get their football players back on the field this spring.
The group is being led by Bullard’s Don Arax, Hoover’s Rustin Pickett, Central’s Kyle Biggs and Clovis’ Rich Hammond. Coaches in the Central Section are circulating petitions to parents that would call for practices and games when counties are reassigned to the “Red Tier” (Tier 2) instead of the “Orange Tier” (Tier 3).
“If the number of COVID-19 cases come down significantly in the spring, and we have hope that they will, we will need to be prepared to offer a fuller range of sports to our kids,” said Arax, in a press release announcing the formation of the coalition. “Right now, our student-athletes are caught in this cruel limbo and suffering in ways I’ve never seen in my 36 years of coaching.”
The coaches say there is a lack of coordination between school districts, the CIF, county health agencies and the state, so as Arax put it, “our group has stepped into the bureaucratic void with a realistic plan and set of dates.”
If the flattening of the curve occurs in early spring, they say football practice could being on Feb. 8, with seven regular season games (including non-league and league games) and three playoff games. If it occurs later in the spring, football practice could begin on March 22, with five league games and two playoff games.
The coaches say their players are suffering personally and academically because of the lockdown, and the heaviest tolls have been on students of color and lower income families.
Pickett says some of his students have suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, and so it’s important for them to have an outlet when the COVID numbers come down.
“To me, it’s not a question of if we play,” said Pickett. “But when can we safely fit in an abbreviated season.”