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Fall athletic end dates fast approaching as seniors likely to miss out on final season


sports collage balls

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

February 17, 2021


Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of recognizing the seniors of the fall season sports who have had their seasons cancelled or limited because of COVID-19.


When the global pandemic began nearly a year ago and dates were later being scheduled, then altered for high school athletics for the 2020-2021 year, there was hope that the fall season would be salvaged. But now we are well into February and little has changed for the resumption of conditioning, practicing, or even playing games, at least for the public schools.

Six of the seven area schools are still in limbo as it relates to their fall season sports, which for the 2020-2021 season would be boys and girls cross country, football, gymnastics {for Valley Christian High only), traditional cheerleading, girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo. As events have continued to change weekly and even daily pertaining to the COVID-19 issue, no change has been made for the return of the fall season sports except for cross country, which recently has been able to return, depending on what each school district wants to do with its schools.

At Artesia High, nothing has been cleared to begin as of Feb. 15 and the window for football, girls volleyball and water polo to get some events in before their respective end dates is quickly closing. During a recent interview with Artesia head football coach Don Olmstead, he was looking at a deadline of the end of this month before the season would be lost.

“I actually heard that the district was trying to get us started just for conditioning,” Olmstead said. “But kind of the word on the street was that people didn’t want to come back for conditioning if we weren’t going to have a season. So, everybody is trying to get the okay from the district that we will have a season.”

On Feb. 3, the ABC Unified School District had initially indicated that it was going to delay and athletic activity until the end of February. However, a week later, the district reversed its course to allow cross country to begin as early as this past Tuesday (Feb. 16) with the other sports becoming eligible to begin on Mar. 1 provided they can reach their “tier” status.

According to the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines for youth sports, which has been having weekly updates since December, cross country remains the only sport in the purple tier in Southern California, among other counties, cleared to have events. For the other fall sports, minus cheerleading, to happen, a county would need to be in the orange tier. The county would also have to be in the yellow tier for cheerleading to happen. As of the Feb. 16 county tier status, three counties were in the red tier and three other counties were in the orange tier, meaning football, girls volleyball and water polo could resume.

“The unfortunate part is people making the decisions that don’t understand that football is different than volleyball,” Olmstead said. “[In] volleyball, I can get my kids together for a week, we can throw [something] together and we can at least make our way through four or five games. In football, you can’t do that, because I’m not throwing a kid in a helmet or shoulder pads until we condition for a couple of weeks. And then we have multiple weeks of going in shoulder pads before we can even play.”

The Artesia football team was looking to rebound from a 4-7 campaign last season, finishing in second place in the 605 League, but advancing to the Division 12 playoffs. The Pioneers have 11 seniors on this season’s team who may or may not play another high school game. Since the CIF-Southern Section has cancelled all fall sports championships, schools are still able to get games in, if they can, before the end date of Apr. 17.

During a recent 605 League meeting, according to Olmstead, the athletic directors had discussed the possibility of a five-week season starting in the middle of March where three games would be played with a week off in between in case someone tested positive. But nothing has been set in stone. The first game would be slated for Mar. 20. However, Olmstead said that putting together an abbreviated season would be challenging because Pioneer High’s Spring Break is Mar. 22-26. In addition, no games would be played on Apr. 2, which is Good Friday, and the subsequent week is the Spring Break for Artesia, Cerritos High and John Glenn High.

He added that the players need to be on the field before the end of February because Apr. 2 is not an option for anyone since it’s Good Friday. If passed by the league, then Feb. 15 or 22 would be start date of conditioning. At best, the four teams that field football programs would play three games and anything beyond that would be icing on the cake.

With or without a 2020 football season, Olmstead said this senior class will always be important to him as it was his first class when he became Artesia’s head coach

“They’re just a great group of kids,” Olmstead said. “Even though we’re virtual right now, it’s still been enjoyable with them. Now, I get to talk to them every day because we have an hour [together] and I have to fill up that time. It’s been a little bit of a blessing in disguise that I get to know them a little bit more on a more personal level. But I just feel bad for them. It’s kind of an awful thing…that we keep trying to express to them that there are bigger things in the world; there are bigger things in life and hopefully they can go attack those and be victorious in that.”

He added that this is a group he wants to stay in contact with and that he will really miss this senior class and wants to get something for them, whether it’s three games, four games or even just a game. Of the 11 seniors, the offensive line would have been the strength of that side of the ball with Raul Bello, who played in 14 games as a sophomore and another 11 as a junior, Andrew Cecil, who played quite a bit as a sophomore, center Johnny Jara and Connor Whaley. Another key piece to the offense would have been Devin Yoakum, whom Olmstead said isn’t sure if he would have been the QB this season as there were others in the mix.

The remaining seniors are Jelani Hopkins, a transfer from St. Anthony High, linebacker Douglas Ixco, Kylin Malone-Vazquez, who transferred from Westminster High in Westminster, Colorado but went to Tetzlaff Middle School before moving to Colorado, Israel Martin, who has always been in the program doing camera work and helping at practice, linebacker Andrew Sanders and Kimo Soto.

Olmstead thought the 2020 schedule was ‘pretty good’ and that it matched up well with the team the Pioneers were going to have. Artesia would have begun the season at Garden Grove High, which would been a good test for Artesia, before hosting Chino High, which slammed Artesia last season. Following Maywood CES in the third game, the Pioneers would have hosted Western High before travelling to Estancia High in a pair of games that also would have been huge non-league contests heading into league play.

He added that the Pioneers would have faced big challenges in league because the other three teams (Oxford Academy and Whitney High don’t field football programs) all have new head coaches. If there is a season, Olmstead doesn’t care who he would play. He just wants to get games in.

“Everybody is ready to go,” Olmstead said. “If you listened to [CIF-Southern Section commissioner Rob] Wigod’s press conference a few weeks ago…there were a couple of hurdles with the health department, the county, the state, the city, the district; there’s all these hurdles we have to go over. But those hurdles are there because we’re in a pandemic.”

In the other fall season sports at Artesia, the only two seniors on the girls cross country team are Alexa Fernandez and Marissa Fernandez. The last date for that sport to participate would be Mar. 27 while boys water polo, which has Iassac Bermudez Jimenez, Christian Bernardo and Zachery Jaimes as its seniors, would have until Mar. 20 to get in any games.

That is also the end date for girls volleyball and its seniors-Kristine Alvarez, Danae Green, Samantha Madrid, Ashley Monge, Kassandra Ortiz, Leah Rahman, Tiffany Gwen Ramos, Yunehe Rodriguez and Sulema Rodriguez. Second-year head coach Tommy Dube had previously stated that he was anxious to get this season going, hoping to rebound from last season’s 7-19 mark, which was the program’s best since 2015. With the high number of seniors, the Lady Pioneers were also hoping to get to the postseason, something the program hasn’t done since 2010. On top of that, Artesia has not had an overall winning season in over two decades.