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Northern Section opts to play sports in the fall

The Northern Section is going it alone.

Bucking the move by the state CIF, which Monday announced it was moving its calendars back to 2021, the Northern Section is forging ahead with a plan to play football, volleyball, cross county and other sports shortly after school resume. However, the resumption of athletics is tied to approval from an individual schools’ county Health Department.

“We’re not taking sports off the table,” Northern Section commissioner Liz Kyle said of an Executive Committee decision to play a traditional sports calendar. “We don’t require a health plan at the section, but it is by the local health departments.”

The state on Monday announced it was moving the fall, winter and spring sports calendars back, combining them into two seasons — fall and spring — to begin in early 2021.

Moments after the CIF announcement, the Northern Section released its own plan to play fall sports, including football, as close to the regular calendar as possible. The move means Northern Section teams would not be eligible for state playoffs.

“CIF-NS member school teams will begin league play when the member school districts’ County Health officers approve the implementation of youth sports, including high school athletics,” a section press release read. “This decision could result in teams in one county playing teams outside their league in another county.”

Jim Cloney, the superintendent of the Shasta Union High School District who was also on the section’s Executive Committee, cautioned that the return of sports is at X or Y and the section is still at A or B.

“There’s a long way to go before  we can say we’re playing sports,” he said. “We’re still trying to reopen schools.”

He said the announcement the section is branching off shouldn’t be seen, necessarily, as two thumbs up.

“I didn’t read it as we were green-lighting fall sports,” Cloney said. “My understanding (of Friday’s decision) was A) if we do put together a fall sports season then we understand there’s not state playoffs and B) that just section competition boils down to league only, you need public health OK and then you’d have to have enough qualifying teams for section playoffs.”

He said a meeting with Eastern Athletic League superintendents – his counterparts in Butte and Tehama counties – was planned for later this week.

Shasta football coach JC Hunsaker said all the schools want guidance in order to plan and prepare.

“It’s hard to look in the crystal ball,” he said. “It’s hard to know if Shasta, Butte and Tehama counties will be able to get on the same timeline.”

READ MORE: What if: A Northern Section football only schedule model

Cloney said he wants to look at “what’s realistic and what’s not” in regards to fall sports.

“I would have to say that individual sports are probably more in our grasp,” he said.

Still, the news that the Northern Section is willing to tackle a fall sports model was met with enthusiasm.

Orland football coach Nick Velazquez said the decision to push forward with a fall season makes the most sense for the section.

“It’s the most common-sense approach for this area,” Velazquez said. “We don’t have schools with 2-, 3- or 4,000 enrollment schools. And when you’re a small school with 700 kids you’re going to wind up recruiting against each other.”

Biggs coach Tyler Rutledge said missing out on a state championship is worth being able to get a football season in.

“Those (state championships) only really affect a minimal amount of schools, while every school gets to experience football,” Rutledge said.

Once a plan is approved by the county Health Department, the individual districts are then able to start forming leagues. It’s possible a schedule could look something similar to the one floated last week by Shasta County Sports. Kyle said the requirements might vary from county to county, especially in less densely populated areas.

A spokeswoman for the Shasta County Health and Human Services said it is waiting on the state to release parameters for youth sports, including high school athletics.

Kyle, the section commissioner, said “Some sports will get to start and others will have to wait” depending on their county’s COVID-19 numbers. “It’s not an all or nothing thing. There may be some leeway in the middle.”

Kyle said the largest of the 10 CIF sections in terms of geographic size has perhaps the most two- or three-sport athletes, as well as two-sport coaches given the number of small schools.

Additionally, she said the move to opt for a fall calendar had a lot to do with the section’s geography and the desire to not play outdoor sports in the winter months in mountain communities.

“Playing soccer or football in two feet of snow in Etna or Yreka or Chester just isn’t a good option,” she said.

It was a point Velazquez echoed.

“I’ve lived in San Diego, I know you can play in January,” he said. “Imagine being at Lassen and practicing in those conditions, day in, day out?”

Rutledge said he’s not sure how all the puzzle pieces will fit, but he’s happy to at least have a target to shoot at.

“You almost worry what curveball is coming next,” he said. “My 5-year-old daughter is always asking questions and sometimes I don’t have the answers, there are some things I can’t explain to her. I felt like I was having to do that with high school kids who only want the opportunity to play.”

Cloney said the option of falling back in line with the CIF’s new calendar was always an option.

“If it doesn’t look like we can get there on football and volleyball, maybe we re-evaluate and see if we can fit in the CIF guidelines,” he said. “The primary goal is to get kids competing in high school athletics to have that full, rich experience. If it takes creativity to make that happen, I’m on board with that.”

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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