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Coach, parent groups vow continued pressure governor for return of California athletics

Groups across California are applying pressure on the governor and California Department of Public Health to resume youth sports. Deadlines are set for a return to action for football in Shasta County. (FILE - Maddie Harrell/Shasta County Sports)

As players and parents connected to the Let Them Play CA movement rallied around the state Friday, the Golden State Football Coaches Community held a virtual, media-only press conference aimed at updating their efforts to persuade Gov. Gavin Newsom to open up high school athletics in the state.

Using both platforms to push the state to abandon its colored-tier model and open up athletics to California’s 3 million students, the coach’s group touted its lobbying of the governor in a 45-minute teleconference.

Coaches, parents, players and the San Diego County District Attorney all spoke in favor of an immediate resumption of athletics, citing a litany of negative effects from the COVID-19 sports lockdown.

“I became involved because we’ve been looking in our student-athletes’ eyes for 11 months and they’ve had no voice,” said Torrey Pines coach Ron Gladnick. “We felt we had to be able to look them in the eye and let them know we did everything on their behalf.

“Every adult in this state has failed them and failed them miserably. This collective movement had become the voice of kids.”

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Serra head football coach Patrick Walsh, who joked he’s the head coach of the Coaches Association, said the group has compiled data pointing to a safe return to California high school athletics, including a letter with 57 physicians showing support of a safe return to play.

The coaches group met with Newsom and members of his staff, believing they were close to convincing the governor to detach from the California color-tiered system.

Currently, the state has athletics tied to graduated color-tier system with purple being the most restrictive, followed by red, orange and yellow, respectively. Sports are classified by the state according to their risk.

As of Monday, all youth sports in the purple tier can operate under the Health Department protocols in Shasta County. Of the state’s 58 counties, Shasta County is one of 54 in purple. Trinity County is in red while Sierra County is in orange.

Purple sports include, cross country, golf, tennis, track and field, alpine, and swimming and diving. Red-tier sports include baseball, softball and field hockey, while football, soccer and volleyball sit in the orange tier. Yellow, the least restrictive tier, includes wrestling, basketball and competitive cheer.

Dangers of inaction

Richmond football coach George Jackson spoke of losing kids to drugs, violence and gangs.

“Our churches are closed, our gyms are closed and we’ve closed athletics,” he said. “What else do we want these kids to do? They’re turning to other things that will not help them in the long run.”

Skyline coach Joe Bates concurred “We’re seeing them join other brotherhoods that aren’t positive.”

Meanwhile, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan pointed to statistics tied to negative effects of shutting kids from athletics, including a rise in suicide, missing children and other adverse trauma.

“This trauma is going to last longer than a generation if we don’t act,” she told the media. “We need to weigh harm of the pandemic against what else is happening to them.”

Getting back on the field

In the North State, the Northern Section’s Executive Committee voted Jan. 21 to allow sports to happen as soon as they were allowed under state guidelines and charged individual districts and schools with creating schedules and competitions based on their county’s colored COVID-19 tier.

Shasta County, which has been in the “widespread” purple tier since Nov. 4, is still a long ways off from climbing tiers. The county can’t move into red until the daily case rate reaches 12.544 per 100,000 residents, orange is 6.989 and yellow at 1.612. As of Tuesday, Shasta County’s adjusted case rate per 100k is 35.6.

As of 1/26 Daily cases per 100k
Current 36.5
Red 12.544
Orange 6.989
Yellow 1.612
*Population 179,212

Practices for each sport can’t resume until the county is in their color coded tier. However, football was the only sport to get a season finish date from the statewide medical advisory board, which said play had to finalize by April 30 in order for a 2021-22 football season.

A spokesperson with Shasta County Public Health said “as it stands now” it takes three weeks for counties to move from a more restrictive tier like purple into a less-restrictive one like red – provided benchmarks are consistently met. Working backward on the calendar, this sets clear dates for a possible football season.

Ten days of padded practices are required before a football game can be played and the Shasta Union High School District has said that football would need to be a four-game season – at minimum, which means Shasta County must be in the red tier by Feb. 22. If the numbers continue to improve, Shasta County must be in the orange tier by March 15 to have a season. All four games would be held on the Fridays in April.

Key Dates for football
Feb. 22 Deadline to be in Red
March 15 Deadline to be in Orange
April 2 1st Game
April 30 Last Day of football

SUHSD Superintendent Jim Cloney is remaining hopeful sports can resume again but knows there’s a lot of ground to cover that is out of the hands of the student-athletes.

“I support all that we can do to get kids playing again, but it’s a matter of opinion and different people look at what’s essential differently,” Cloney said. “Sports are extra curricular and I fall into a category that think sports are crucial (to the education mission).

“I do empathize 100 percent with all the people trying to make it happen and that’s why we’re trying to find some way to make it happen.”

Remaining challenges

Due to the CIF rule earlier this month, athletes and coaches are prohibited from switching back-and-forth between sports for the remainder of the school year, meaning a student-athlete can go from baseball to football but can’t go back to baseball if football got canceled. That presents a challenge that could leave a void among schools in rural areas such as Shasta County.

“The danger is by potentially stacking all the sports in the last six weeks, we’re going to be in trouble and it’d have to be all hands on deck,” Cloney said. “Athletes, coaches and officials are going to be squeezed.”

More of a detriment could be the fact that the spring sports of baseball and softball could be held without a season for a second straight year since the pandemic began in March. Track and field was allowed to start practicing Monday since it is a purple tier sport.

“That would be a tragedy to miss two years,” Cloney said. “We have to get in the red for that in time to get in a solid baseball/softball (season).”

Other coaches aren’t as optimistic in Shasta County dropping tiers in time to get non-purple tier sports in during the 2020-21 school year. One coach told Shasta County Sports “have your purple backup plan ready to go” in case the sport of choice doesn’t get played.

What Shasta County football can look like

Detaching from color coded tiers would simplify the situation but the schedule would likely not have the normal Eastern Athletic League and Northern Athletic League schools, Foothill High head football coach Joey Brown said.

In the EAL, Enterprise, Foothill and Shasta are all connected since they’re like-sized schools within the same district. If Tehama County can sign off on allowing Red Bluff to join them, the Spartans could be a fourth team and Lassen could be a fifth team, though it would likely have to travel for all four games, Brown said.

Cloney said SUHSD teams couldn’t compete with teams in Butte County such as Chico and Pleasant Valley.

That would leave the NAL as Anderson, Central Valley, U-Prep and West Valley with potential of adding Corning (Tehama County) like the EAL did with Red Bluff. Yreka (Siskiyou County) would be unlikely to join with a dwindling program and would likely have to travel for every game, Brown said. With Corning it’s a four-game schedule, without Corning makes it a four-team NAL. That could essentially allow for three games each, leaving the fourth game open for a league championship game, which could be intriguing considering there are no playoffs this year.

If the EAL has to stick to Shasta County schools, then either see a home-and-home series against the ‘Big 3’ of Enterprise, Foothill and Shasta (that means two River Bowls), or look for them to add West Valley and let the NAL schools of Anderson, CV and U-Prep play a home-and-home series to complete the four games.

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Staff Reports is content produced by the Shasta County Sports team.

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