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NAL aligns football, volleyball with CIF calendar; submitting proposal to county health officials for individual sport guidelines

West Valley High's football team won the Northern Athletic League championship last fall but will have to wait until winter to have a shot at a third straight league crown after athletic directors agreed to move football back to align with the CIF calendar. (FILE -- Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

The Northern Athletic League is next in the Northern Section to hit the pause button on a possible football and volleyball season this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following in the footsteps of the Eastern Athletic League’s decision last week, the NAL agreed Wednesday to move football and volleyball back to winter to align with the CIF calendar.

Despite the move of the major fall team sports, the NAL — comprised of Shasta County schools Anderson, Central Valley, U-Prep and West Valley, along with Yreka (Siskiyou County) and Lassen (Lassen County) — is aiming to play a delayed schedule of individual sports such as cross country, tennis, golf and swimming in the fall, said West Valley athletic director James O’Brien. In a new move, the NAL is requesting to shift baseball and softball to the fall pending health officials approval of youth sports guidelines.

“We proposed it but we’re not locked into it,” said U-Prep athletic director Steven Schuster, who is the 2020-21 school year NAL president due to the annual rotation among league members. “We’re exploring low-risk sports to give kids as many opportunities to play in the fall as possible.”

Before any decision is made, Schuster is collecting input from NAL athletic directors to construct a collaborative proposal of safety guidelines and procedures to submit to Shasta County Public Health officials in order for the requested fall sports to begin.

“We have to get safety guidelines approved for each sport before anything else can happen,” O’Brien said. “If (county health) comes back and says yes to swimming and tennis then we’ll have another meeting for scheduling for those sports and go back to work on the guidelines for the other sports that were denied. We hope we’d get feedback to fix the guidelines for the other sports so we can get those approved.”

Should the NAL guidelines get approved in Shasta County then Siskiyou and Lassen counties could follow suit considering Shasta County is more densely populated and has higher positive cases of COVID-19, O’Brien said. As of publication on Wednesday, Shasta and Siskiyou counties are both under 50 active cases per 100,000 residents — the state’s watch list threshold is 100 cases per 100,000 residents — and the bulk of Lassen County’s active cases are from the jail population, according to state and local health official websites. Eleven people are hospitalized in the three counties with a population of 251,946.

The start of any athletics is contingent on the youth sport guidelines set by California State Public Health Officials and there’s optimism they could be released soon.

“Some ADs are hearing it could be this week or maybe early next week,” O’Brien said. “We’re hoping those are positive guidelines and not negative. It’s hard to get anything going under the current guidelines.”

Until the state protocols are released everyone is playing the waiting game. But the NAL is taking an active approach in a less-impacted area of the state.

“We have no idea what is coming,” Schuster said. “It could end up being a blanket statement (for the state) instead of regional. I hope that’s not the case.”

The proposal describing safety protocols for each sport must be approved by superintendents of each NAL member district before being submitted to county health officials, O’Brien said.

“Our goal is to get it to the superintendents next week,” O’Brien said.

A decision from Shasta County officials on the NAL proposal would be expected to have a ripple effect for the other schools residing in counties not on the state’s watch list, O’Brien said. Other leagues would be expected to adopt the same guidelines to begin athletics.

Once enough districts and counties are given the green light, leagues of approved schools could be created to form schedules and contests. Shasta County Sports floated The Northern Plan on Monday for proposed realignment for schools in Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc, Lassen and Plumas counties, all of which are not on the state’s watch list.

But athletic directors are trying to focus on the first steps of getting sports approved before discussing realignment possibilities.

“The goal is to get kids to be able to play and get as many kids as active as possible,” Schuster said. “If that means a league isn’t fully capable of playing then we can look at doing something to combine leagues to get competition and to allow the best season possible. If we find out some can play and some can’t, then we’ll see if it makes sense to create a league schedule and a non-league schedule.

“We have goals and ideas but we still have things that need to come out to make sure our goals line up and are realistic or not.”

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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