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EAL fall sport options shrinking, shifts more sports around

The Eastern Athletic League moved cross-country from a fall sport to a winter sport for the 2020-21 school year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (FILE PHOTO -- Contributed photo)

The opportunity for fall sports in the North State continues to dwindle after Eastern Athletic League rolled back more sports seasons back on Friday.

EAL athletic administrators pushed back swimming and cross-country to the second semester of the 2020-21 school year, leaving only girls golf and girls and boys tennis as the only fall sports options, said EAL commissioner Scott Fairley.

“As soon as (county health officials) can approve individual sports, we would like to try and get girls tennis started as soon as we can,” Fairley said. “Same thing for girls golf.”

The EAL — comprised of the six largest enrollment schools in the Northern Section with Shasta County schools Enterprise, Foothill and Shasta, Tehama County’s Red Bluff High and Butte County’s Chico and Pleasant Valley — is constructing health and safety guidelines next week to each district’s superintendents before submitting to county health officials for approval, Fairley said.

Chico and PV can’t practice right now while Butte County is on the state’s watch list, Fairley said, and Tehema County is nearing the watch list threshold based on several statistics, including 100 active/positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, which was currently at 129 per 100K as of Saturday morning.

Ultimately, everything is on hold until state health officials release youth sports guidelines before counties can sign off on sports to happen, Fairley said.

“I think county health departments could supersede (the state) but the counties will likely not want to do anything that the state doesn’t recommend doing,” Fairley said. “They (state’s youth sports guidelines) should be coming soon but we don’t know exactly how soon it is.”

The EAL was the first in the Northern Section to decide to move volleyball and football to winter to align with the CIF calendar despite the NSCIF granting permission for all sports as long as county officials approve of all safety protocols. Fairley expects other leagues to follow suit for more available schools and maximize scheduling opportunities.

Here’s a breakdown of the latest moves by sport:

Cross-country moves to winter

Cross-country will begin in January because of the difficulty of a quick start and needed training time, Fairley said.

“For the valley schools, winter is better time for distance running than this time of year,” said Fairley, who was a longtime West Valley cross-country and track and field coach. “In the beginning of the year, it’s 100-plus degrees out and kids are dying. (In winter) you can warm up in the rain.

The mountain schools have voiced concern over running in the snow and near or below-freezing temperatures, Fairley said. Other leagues can choose to run in the fall but a decision still needs to be made about what the official season will be for the section. The state championships are CIF calendar for cross-country is winter.

Tennis attempting fall season

The EAL is trying to get girls tennis started as soon as possible and the boys are going to be played later in the fall semester to avoid adding another spring sport to battle for athletes, Fairley said.

“There aren’t enough courts to do both at the same time and some coaches coach both the girls and boys and can’t do both at the same time,” Fairley said.

Girls tennis is planned to run across September and October and boys tennis to follow in November and December. If county health officials don’t approve guidelines by December then the backup plan is to have girls tennis go in January and February and the boys go from March to the end of the school year.

Golf staying in regular seasons

Similar to tennis, girls golf is trying to get approval to start immediately and there are issues with boys occurring simultaneously due to impact on local golf courses, Fairley said.

But the the boys want to stick with spring and align with the CIF calendar to allow athletes to compete at the regional and state level.

No members of the Northern Section would be able to compete at the regional or state level in girls golf if it happens in fall, due to it being outside the state season of sport.

Swimming aligns with state calendar

The CIF added state championships for swimming in 2015 but the Northern Section has yet to move the season of sport to spring until now.

Part of the reason the sport never switched over was the costly expenses to heat the pool in the spring compared to the fall when the warm weather heats the water well into September, Fairley said.

Switching the season to spring aligns with the CIF calendar and Northern Section athletes would be eligible for regional and state playoffs for the first time.

The date of first contest for swimming is March 29, Fairley said.

Sports for each season in the EAL

Fall Winter Spring
Girls Tennis Football Baseball
Girls Golf Volleyball Softball
Boys Tennis Cross-Country B/G Basketball
Ski & Snowboard Track & Field
B/G Soccer Swimming
Boys Golf


T.J. is a national-award winning journalist passionate about local news and telling the story no one else knows about. He’s roamed sidelines, baselines and bleachers in the North State since 2010 and is a content producer from sunup to sundown. Sports are a hobby he shares with his wife Tracy where they’ve spent many dates around a field or court of some sort.

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