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Fall sports season remains in limbo for area public schools

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By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

January 6, 2020

As the area public high schools resumed online learning earlier this past week, the waiting game for fall season athletics continues as it has not yet commenced. Per the 2020-2021 fall season calendar that the CIF-Southern Section released on July 20, boys volleyball was to have begun on Dec. 12, but on Dec. 18, the CIF-SS moved the sport to the spring season.

Girls volleyball was to have started on Dec. 19 with boys and girls water polo beginning their seasons on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28 respectively and boys and girls cross country on Dec. 26.

Conditioning for the fall sports began on Nov. 2 but was shut down last month as the number of COVID-19 positive cases continues to spike at a high rate. Most of the state remains in the purple tier as we head into the early part of January and many are wondering how much longer the fall season will be delayed or if it will completely be cancelled.

This past Monday, the California Department of Public Health was to have reassessed and evaluate its plan of having athletes return to competition on Jan. 25, which it has not done at time of press this past Wednesday. On Jan. 19, the CIF-SS will have an update on plans for its fall sports championships, which are scheduled anywhere from Mar. 6 for boys water polo to Apr. 9 for 11-man football.

“Based on what was taking place with the COVID numbers increasing, I think our district had to make the call,” said John Glenn High co-athletic director Linda Parra on suspending the conditioning activities.

She said that the cheer, cross country, football and volleyball teams had been conditioning two to four times a week at Glenn, but at different times during the day, and with each sport entering and exiting at different gates. Each sport had pods of no more than 10 athletes. Cross country and volleyball would be conditioning first, followed by cheer and football in the evening. Glenn began its conditioning the second week of November and Parra said initially, the numbers were in the 20s for girls volleyball, which is low because usually they are around 45. However, that number had dipped to between 10-15 because the lower level volleyball athletes were not showing up.

Parra cites factors at home for the low numbers and added that even though the school was following every protocol and doing everything the right way, some parents didn’t want their daughter coming back for conditioning because they didn’t feel comfortable.

“We haven’t seen our kids since March, and so factors of laziness set in,” she said.

On July 21, the athletic directors of the 605 League, which has Artesia High, Cerritos High, Glenn, Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney High as its members, approved its league schedules for each sport. However, with boys volleyball now moved to the spring, and the uncertainty that the first girls volleyball league match, which was will be held today (Whitney at Oxford) or Tuesday for everyone else was going to go on as planned, the prospects of having a full league season are slim to none. Parra said that there have been multiple conversations as athletic directors along with the principals regarding wanting to have the athletes prepared. They talked about missing a few league matches just to give the players an opportunity, if they were cleared to do so, to have a real practice before jumping into the matches.

“Our hope has always been that we could get at least the second round of league in play,” Parra said. “That’s something that we have discussed.”

The league schedule for volleyball is set up so that everyone plays two matches a week. The idea of possibly adding another league match a week to make up for lost matches not played from Jan. 12 to Jan. 26 was never mentioned. Instead, Parra said that that the concern from the athletic directors has been about the athletes not being able to be inside the gymnasium to practice at this point.

She added that if there was a chance the athletes could get back in the gymnasium in the next few weeks, the 605 League would use the first round matches as non-league events instead of having to reschedule non-league opponents that had been on the original schools’ schedules.

As far as the other three fall sports that have league events, the first league cross country meet isn’t until Jan. 27, the first league boys water polo event (for Artesia, Cerritos, Pioneer and Whitney only), isn’t until Feb. 2 and the first league football game isn’t until Feb. 25-27.

The league did make one change involving its two cross country cluster meets (Jan. 27 and Feb. 15) and the league finals (Mar. 3). All three will now be held at Cerritos High as the league couldn’t get Cerritos Regional Park or La Mirada Regional Park to sign any permits to have the events there.

The waiting game has been difficult for everyone involved because what may look optimistic today or tomorrow could quickly turn dire later in a week or the following week. Trying to schedule and reschedule events and plan accordingly has been taxing for the athletic directors, coaches, principals and student-athletes.

“If you talk to any athletic director or coach, that’s been the biggest obstacle because we’re planners and we like to know…we plan a whole year ahead,” Parra said. “That’s just the nature of how we think. Now, we don’t even know what tomorrow is going to bring because there hasn’t been much discussion yet. That’s where it’s like, okay, just remember to stay patient and not get too much anxiety of what’s going to happen because really, there hasn’t been any conversation.”

As far as football goes, Parra believes the best case scenario to begin playing won’t be until February. Since four of the six league schools field football programs, that would mean there would be three league contests for that sport and Parra said the league could potentially get those games in if ‘miracles happen and the numbers go down quickly’.

Then there is the thought in the back of everyone’s head that the entire fall season would be wiped out. She commended her coaches for remaining realistic and taking everything in stride and added that there hasn’t been any grief when the school had to shut down conditioning.

“We’re hopeful for a season, but at the same time, we’re expecting that we might not have a season,” Parra said.

Parra said that the league athletic directors meet the first Thursday of every month and the second Thursday of every month is typically when the athletic directors and principals meet. She is also quick to say that even though the CIF-SS may give the green light to play games at any given date, that doesn’t mean that the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District will grant the same for Glenn, La Mirada High or Norwalk High.

“I think the Norwalk-La Mirada School District is very cautious,” Parra said. “It’s not just CIF, it’s CIF plus what our school district is going to say, which is governed by the [Los Angeles Unified School District] and the state.

“Our district won’t move forward until they get the green light from L.A. County,” she later added. “And they do take into factors what CIF is saying. So, they’re following very closely what CIF is saying; they know what the updates are for high school sports. But again, it’s really hard to say, ‘you know what, we’re going to play games, but we don’t have kids in the classroom’.”

In closing, Parra would like to let her student-athletes know that as athletic directors, coaches or anyone else who works at Glenn, they are trying to provide hope to the kids that things will get better. They just don’t know when it will get better. She continued by saying that it will be interesting to see when the NLMUSD is going to meet with the administrators to tell them what they will be allowed to do, either this month or next month.

It’s a different story for Valley Christian High, which is not bound by any school district. Athletic director Dan Leffler said that its fall season athletes have been conditioning since the summer while following strict protocols and the first girls volleyball match is slated to take place tonight when the Lady Defenders host Central Valley Christian High. Once again, just like at any other school, public or private, it’s all voluntary as far as athletes returning to conditioning.

“We actually see some kids on campus in pods, Monday through Thursday, in small groups,” Leffler said. “So, that’s kind of where we’re at. From an academic learning standpoint, it’s all voluntary. Obviously, we’re doing this all with proper protocol; six feet in classrooms. We have a bunch of new equipment inside there for us to be able to do Zoom and do all those things for kids who are not on campus. That’s a piece of the puzzle we added recently. We were pretty much remote up until right around Thanksgiving time, and then we went to this pseudo-hybrid with small groups in pods.”

Leffler couldn’t pinpoint an exact percentage, but he did say that a high percentage of students at V.C. are doing their classwork remotely and they do have the option of doing it remotely or coming to school. According to the practice schedule for the fall season sports at V.C. that was posted on its athletic website in the summer, girls volleyball was able to begin its practice on Aug. 10 with cheer, cross country and football beginning on Sept. 9. In addition, boys and girls basketball, which is in the spring season, began practicing on Aug. 12 and 24 respectively. Boys volleyball also started its practices on Aug. 18.

“We feel like we have a pretty good protocol,” Leffler said. “We monitor everybody closely. So, we’re preparing like we’re going to play a game eventually someday when that information breaks and they tell us when the season actually is going to start. We feel like there’s a tremendous amount of mental stability in that for our student-athletes. So, we get them out here and do some speed and agility and try to stay in shape.”

There are four touchpoints at the high school where the athletes enter and the coaches do all the monitoring with temperature checks, according to Leffler. There’s an extensive spreadsheet for tracking purposes in the event they need to go back and trace for close contact. V.C. also does not allow anyone on campus who is not a student-athlete or credentialed to work at the school.

As it relates to the Olympic League master schedule for V.C., Heritage Christian High, Maranatha High, Village Christian High and Whittier Christian High, Leffler said there have not been any alterations for the fall sports since league events don’t begin until February. The only worries V.C. had, according to Leffler, was for its non-league events. He added that “all systems are go” for the Defenders to play in February assuming that the schools in the Olympic League are entertaining playing regardless of what the situation looks like.

Leffler said that the league athletic directors have Zoom meetings every week, a main reason why he feels they are moving in the right direction. One of the negatives that the league has is that V.C.’s football stadium is the only one that has lights. The other four league schools rents from other facilities at public schools. Because of that, that puts a burden on Leffler to decide if V.C. is going to host all four Olympic League game or not.

“Up to this point, we’re all committed to doing that; to seeing our Olympic League schedule through,” Leffler said. “Right before [winter] break, we had our last Zoom meeting and we’re going to meet [Jan. 5]. There are a couple of schools who are on the fence, to be honest, to say, ‘hey, I’m not sure that administratively they’re going to let us pull this off’. I’ve got the full support of our head of school Superintendent to try to do this in a safe way and play games.”
The league has proposed the idea of moving the football games to Saturday afternoons as well as other options. The main thing is that the league is going to do everything it can to try to play its league schedule.

As of press time this past Wednesday, the girls volleyball team was on track to play Maranatha on Jan. 14 in the league opener. Originally, it’s scheduled as a road match, but the Lady Defenders would be ready to host the Pasadena-based school if it is unable to have sporting events on its campus.

Regarding spectators at the sporting events, Leffler said that it’s going to be more of a universal decision from a league standpoint so that everyone is on the same page. With that said, two parents per players would be allowed in the gymnasium for volleyball. The league, which operates three levels of volleyball, would clear the gym following each level before letting parents enter for the next level’s match. Even for non-league matches, that would be the format that V.C. would use. Once the gym is cleared after a match, the bleachers would be wiped down before the beginning of the next match.

In terms of the numbers for the fall sports, V.C. has not seen a decrease and in fact, Leffler said this has been one of the stronger years for student-athletes coming out for football, whether it’s been for junior varsity or varsity. He said when everyone is at practices and the program is running about 48-56 players, which is a little bit higher than what the school is used to. Originally, the program had 61 players, but some decided not to play for non-COVID reasons. For the girls volleyball program, the numbers remain as strong as it always has been with 36 in the program for all three levels. Leffler said that 56 players tried out for volleyball during the summer. For boys and girls cross country, there are 25 in the program, which is lower than in the past.

The only fall sport that V.C. will not have for the 2020-2021 season is gymnastic because of several reasons. V.C. competes in the Moore League for gymnastics and the other schools are also not going to do gymnastics, meaning the Lady Defenders wouldn’t have anyone to compete against. Also, there wouldn’t be any facilities open for V.C. to practice.

Since the girls volleyball program is scheduled to play tonight and tomorrow, Leffler said the players, who have been practicing since the summer, are excited to keep going. The Lady Defenders went 25-9 last season and won the CIF-SS Division 4 championship.

In closing, Leffler wanted to let everyone realize that the school takes this entire situation very seriously and has the upmost respect for the protocol and things that need to happen when bringing student-athletes on campus.

“Obviously, we’re in a very fortunate spot being here at Valley Christian, and it’s not tied to a specific school system or district,” Leffler said. “That gives the flexibility for our Board of Directors as well as our head of school as well as our community to make those decisions. We don’t do this going in blind.

“We do extensive surveys with our families; our community to make sure that everybody is on the same page,” he continued. “I think that needs to be noted, that we go ahead and try to get our community actively involved to say, ‘hey, is this something you would like entertained and do you want to do this and if you don’t, it’s optional’. There’s no penalty here. We’re just creating opportunities for our kids to do something else outside of sitting in front of a screen.”