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EAL pushes football, volleyball back to align with CIF; individual sports may compete in fall

Under a plan approved Friday, Eastern Athletic League football was pushed back to a December/January start, meaning league foes Shasta and Foothill could meet some time early next year. (File photo by Tony Hord / Shasta County Sports)

After first announcing intentions for the Northern Section to play a regular fall sports season, the Eastern Athletic League walked back from that Friday.

Instead of a full slate of sports starting in late August, the EAL will attempt to play individual sports while moving football and volleyball back to align with the CIF calendar unveiled Monday.

The sticking point for the EAL, which is comprised of Shasta, Enterprise, Foothill, Red Bluff, Chico and Pleasant Valley high schools, was Butte County landing on the state’s COVID-19 watch list on Wednesday after its coronavirus cases rose above the threshold.

Shasta Union High School District Superintendent Jim Cloney acknowledged that played into the decision to push football and volleyball back, but said the consensus was to see if individual sport coaches would be willing to get their sports up and running for a fall season.

Cloney said the EAL is looking to swimming, cross country, boys and girls golf, and boys and girls tennis to compete in the fall. He said the timetable is to have plans compiled by Aug. 7 so schools can present plans to their respective Public Health departments.

“The first step is asking coaches if they’re OK with competing in the fall and not being eligible for state competition,” Cloney said. “The second step is to organize coaches into developing a plan for (their county) Public Health to approve.”

“We’re asking them to tell us how it could be done,” he said, adding coaches and athletic directors are the ones with that expertise. “I don’t know what it takes to run a swim meet.

“They’re the ones out there doing the deep dive (for information) and (if others have plans they’re using) we’re not opposed to learning from others.”

Cloney said the push to get some sports playing is two-fold. First, he said, it injects some normalcy back into the campus and the start of school. Second, he said, it becomes a logistics issue if all the sports have to be fit in a six-month window.

WHAT IF: A Northern Section only football schedule

As for football and volleyball being bumped back, Cloney said the plan now is to align with the state for practices to begin in December with games starting in early January. He said that plan works for the EAL, but wasn’t sure what other leagues, including those in the mountains, might choose to do.

“I still don’t know how to feel,” Foothill football coach Joey Brown said. “This is the first time since 1999 I haven’t had a fall football season. I’m still processing it.”

Brown said he’s sad his players won’t get to experience the traditional fall Fridays, but added “There’s a little enthusiasm about creating new memories in the winter.”

He said while his players have been motivated over the summer, he’s glad to have a target date to shoot for.

“These guys have been awesome to be around but we couldn’t keep that (intensity) up forever without knowing what the end goal was.”

Brown said the December practice start allows him and the other EAL coaches to start on even footing and adequately prepare.

And while the EAL is planning on its own, the other leagues must figure out for themselves what’s best for their member schools, Northern Section Commissioner Liz Kyle said.

On Monday, after the state CIF announcement, she told Shasta County Sports that the Northern Section’s decision to attempt fall sports as planned wasn’t an all or nothing proposition.

“We really need to work with what best fits the needs of our schools and student-athletes,” she said Friday.

She said she’s heard the state Department of Health is supposed to release guidelines for youth and high school sports.

“I don’t know what soon is,” she said however.

She did say one plan that’s been bandied about – flipping spring and fall sports – was shot down by the state’s Sports Medicine Committee as it would bookend football, making it too much for the athletes when you add in the extra summer football workouts.

“I think every school tries to teach about being flexible and that’s we’re have to learn now,” she said.

Aaron Williams has been involved in the North State sports scene for nearly two decades. He spent eight years as the Sports Editor for the local newspaper and another four more as the voice of high school football on the radio. Williams has coached various sports at the high school level over the past decade, most recently at Shasta High, and is also the public address announcer for the Shasta College football and basketball teams.

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