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Valley Christian becomes area’s first high school to bring back athletes for practices

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

September 22, 2020

Once the CIF-Southern Section released its revamped 2020-2021 athletic calendar on July 20, Valley Christian High athletic director Dan Leffler wasn’t surprised at the new starting dates for all the sports. If anything, he was just thankful that something was being put together so that the school could get kids back to play.

“I was a little more fearful that they weren’t able to come to an agreement on that, and safety-wise and what makes sense,” Leffler said. “But I was excited that we were going to get an opportunity to actually put some kids back on the field and court and play.”

Because V.C. is a complete school system, it was anticipating getting a waiver for at least its elementary school. Leffler said the bulk of his work since March has been writing protocol for return to play, not just for athletes, but for students as well. He added that he and his administrative team have been working extensively to create the formula within the guidelines of Los Angeles County and trying to make sure everyone stays healthy.

“We want to get back in the classroom as quick as we can, and we’re trying to be as cautious as we can,” Leffler said. “I don’t see that we’re going to do anything drastic here in the near future as far as open up the floodgates to let kids in.”

However, he is quick to add that once things kept getting pushed back and they may not get the waiver and it may take until after the election for anything to happen, V.C. was intent on getting the athletes back on campus, in groups of 12. The school has a COVID-19 monitor form; everybody signs a release, and everybody gets their temperature check. There are sanitizing stations set up and the teams take regular breaks within the course of their practice times.

“We do have kids on this campus every day for athletics,” Leffler said. “That’s something that the school is committed to, and it’s in a controlled environment and it’s using our protocol. We’re still in the pods. But that’s something that we feel adds value to them and to their well-being.”

For football, weight training is done outside, speed and agility drills are done outside, and throwing is done on an individual basis, according to Leffler. He also said the school has been fortunate so far not to have any cases and everyone wears a mask on the way in as well as on the way out. Most importantly, Leffler wanted to point out that athletes are not required to come on campus to practice; it’s all optional and parents made the choice for their son or daughter to come to V.C. to workout.

“Obviously, it’s probably not a popular decision,” he said. “But our community feels like there’s a lot of value in that. So, we do it and we do it safely.”

Leffler also said the L.A. County Health Department has called him at least three times and ask questions about the school’s protocol and what it is doing. Those calls have probably come to follow-up on complaints or concerns that people have made on the health department’s website on V.C. allowing athletes to be on campus.

When the schools were shut down in the middle of March due to COVID-19, it took V.C. and the other Olympic League members about 30 days before the dialogues began, according to Leffler, as far as putting together a master league schedule. Over the next few months, that process intensified, even though the athletic directors knew it could be a long journey.

“We didn’t really know, obviously, at the time,” Leffler said. “We were exploring all options. But it didn’t take long before the Olympic League to just start kicking ideas around. We were about a month into this thing and then we were starting to think, hey, we’re in a full-fledged pandemic and that’s obviously going to have a huge effect on our athletic programs. So, what’s that going to look like for us?”

What Leffler wasn’t anticipating when the CIF-SS put together its new calendar was that some of the sports were doubling up in the same season, especially boys volleyball moving to the temporary fall and girls tennis switching to the temporary spring. Instead, he was anticipating the traditional fall, winter and spring seasons to be shrunk. The 2020-2021 calendar will consist of a fall season of 10 sports plus competitive cheer and a spring season of 19 sports plus competitive cheer. For the purposes of V.C., it will have half a dozen fall sports, plus cheer, and 12 in the spring, plus cheer.

“As far as timing goes, I wasn’t expecting to play this many games, to be honest with you,” Leffler said. “I thought for sure that the football season would be shrunk down in an abbreviated time season. But as I studied the CIF seasons more, they’re just shrinking the amount of days in a season. They’re not really shrinking games.”

The compression of the sports into the two seasons creates a bigger problem for V.C. more so than at a lot of schools with higher enrollment. Not only does V.C. have the usual multi-sport athletes that you see at every high school, but many are also involved in extracurricular activities. That’s the reason V.C. gets the student-athletes it does, according to Leffler.

One of those extracurricular activities, which has been a popular mainstay at the school for the longest time, is the annual Broadway Showcase, held every March. During this time, one can anticipate multiple athletes juggling their on the court, field or track talents for that on the stage. Many times, an athlete or more could possibly miss a key game or two because they have to go home to get dressed for Broadway Showcase, then make their way to the La Mirada Performing Arts Theater where the event is held over several nights. But for this year, Leffler said that it’s still up in the air and it might be postponed or even cancelled. He also doesn’t anticipate it being held offsite.

“The Broadway topic comes up a lot because it encompasses K-12 here and our school system,” Leffler said. “We’re anticipating that that’s not going to be held at the La Mirada Performing Arts Theater this next year in March. We’re anticipating something that’s on a smaller scale and maybe done a couple of different nights rather than just a Friday-Saturday type setup to give a little bit of flexibility.

“It’s a huge challenge for the kids because everybody wants to participate in it,” he later said. “It’s already a bit of a nightmare for coaching staffs because kids are pulled away while we’re preparing midweek.”

He added that the school is ‘now stuck in a bind’ to try to figure out what’s a good balance with academics; how many games can a particular sport schedule in a week, in which the CIF-SS has regulations on that as well. Leffler also admitted it’s already going to be tough for the school and sees some of the ‘so-called non-signature sports’ struggling a bit.

Leffler said putting together the non-league schedules in most, if not all the sports has been a work in progress so far because V.C. plays a lot of non-league contests against schools from many school districts that are near V.C. that don’t have the flexibility to commit to scheduling a contest against the Defenders at this point in time. He said the athletic department is on the fourth version of a schedule and is constantly tweaking it and trying to figure out games.

“Then there’s always the chance that some of the districts are going to say, ‘no you can’t do that’,” Leffler said. “The non-league is definitely the hardest part of our schedule to nail down because of the fact that our league is pretty committed to be playing and we work really hard to try to figure that out.”

Leffler hinted at the possibility of the league moving some of its contests to Saturdays and having doubleheaders for baseball on Saturdays. He continued to say that V.C. is trying to give the student-athletes the best opportunity to do multiple things. The only change to its football schedule was moving a Week Zero contest against San Marino to the last game of the regular season on Mar. 12 as there are now Week Zero games with the revised CIF-SS calendar.

“We have a huge conflict here at Valley Christian with the baseball side of that thing along with soccer now that they’re in the same season,” Leffler said. “We have a lot of soccer kids that would normally play baseball. So, those have been interesting conversations for myself and my coaches, just trying to work together and figure out how to make that work.”

In terms of V.C. having the same person to coach boys and girls volleyball in the fall and boys and girls golf or boys and girls tennis, both in the spring, Leffler said he had to move girls volleyball head coach Jeff Ornee to director of volleyball operations. Originally, Ornee was going to be the head coach of both programs because they play in different seasons. But Leffler backed off that plan because Ornee is, as Leffler put it, “pretty focused on what’s going on with the girls program” and couldn’t balance both programs and do it well. V.C. could bring back former boys head coach Jason Kwok to take over the same position. In fact, Leffler said at V.C., it doesn’t have any crossover head coaches, meaning boys and girls golf will each have their own head coach as will boys and girls tennis.

Another major problem facing V.C.  is that it has one gymnasium, just like Whitney High. While the school doesn’t field a wrestling program, it still has three levels in its volleyball and basketball programs for a total of 12 teams. The school has always been successful with those varsity programs and has already had to juggle between boys and girls basketball, who have started their practices early and girls volleyball whenever it makes a deep playoff run. With the addition of boys volleyball, which always makes deep playoff runs in the spring, Leffler has his work cut out for him this school year.

Boys and girls volleyball are slated to end the regular season on Feb. 13 and 20 respectively with basketball beginning on Mar. 12. But if either volleyball team advances to the CIF-SS finals, which is scheduled for Mar. 6 or Mar. 12, that could demand some creativity from everyone involved.

“It already creates a crunch for us because people are worried about getting in the gym,” Leffler said. “We’re going to have to be creative with that. Some teams will have to go in the mornings, so we’ll be doing some 6:00 A.M. practices here. We’ll extend our time to practice, so we’ll be going until 9:00 on certain nights to make sure that people can get gym time. It’s not ideal, obviously. But it’s what we have to work with. We’re exploring some options with outdoor courts which are actually covered and lit.”

While many high schools associated with a school district will have major transportation issues to navigate through, Leffler says V.C. is fortunate in that regard. It has 14 busses and a dozen of them are put on the road every day. He added that it will mix it up a bit this year by adding some vans to its fleet to keep the kids in class for as long as it can before sending them to the games.

Another positive has been the fact that V.C. has not dwelled on the negative things because, as Leffler put it, all the sports are still on the adjusted calendar and the athletes still have that opportunity to play. In addition, the school has not lost any athletes in terms of not wanting to play because of COVID-19.



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