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Opinion: Failing to figure athletics puzzle during COVID shorts California students

California should follow other states that have successfully navigated high school athletics amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo by Tony Hord / Shasta County Sports)

Like a truth you don’t want to believe, the long-standing optimism that we’d see high school football in California is teetering.

Time is disappearing — rapidly. The January calendar will soon expire and with it the hopes that California can somehow salvage not only football, but the majority of its sports seasons for hundreds of thousands of student-athletes.

Football. Gone.

Basketball. Poof.

Volleyball. Bye.

Baseball. See ya.

Softball. Nope.

Irreplaceable moments for high school student athletes would vanish – times that can never be returned.

And the fault falls squarely at the feet of Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Department of Public Health.

Yes, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

Yes, people are dying from this virus.

Yes, that’s tragic and something no one wishes upon anyone.

Having firmly been on the side that errs with caution, it remains crucial to mask-up, socially distance and work to mitigate the spread.

However, caution mustn’t become an excuse to quit.

Our athletes deserve more. Our athletes deserve better. Our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete.

Nearly two-thirds of states have waded into high school athletics with much-trepidation, a massive plan of attack and, from most accounts, little negative results. It’s foolish, after all, to think that teenagers aren’t already hanging out together – either while in school or during stay-at-home class.

If high school classes or high school athletics were indeed super-spreader events leading to a massive die-off, the news would be chock full of reports. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out Tuesday saying “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

And while states across the country have crowned football and volleyball champions, shifted action to the hardwood and  begun preparing for baseball, softball and the remaining spring sports, California sits on the sideline waiting for the powers-that-be to toss crumbs to the starving peasants.

Yes, we’ll be left with purple-tiered sports, but, if we’re honest, those don’t move the needle. The public doesn’t clamor for golf or swimming results the way it does for Friday Night Lights action.

And that in no way should denigrate the dedication, athleticism and competition of those sports.

Swim meets are filled drama, camaraderie and excitement.

Track and field meets are a buffet of action.

Golf isn’t just something you pick up and be great – ask any high-handicapper.

This shouldn’t be about pitting one sport against another.

Not all athletes want to play football. Not all athletes have what it takes to run cross country. Not all athletes have access to alpine, golf or tennis facilities.

But all athletes should be given the opportunity to shine in a sport whose life-changing potential can’t be underestimated.

Having coached youth and high school sports for the better part of 15 years, the impact of athletics are incalculable.

Life lessons are forged through the toil of sports. Teamwork. Confidence. Humility. Persistence. Integrity. Trust. Accountability. Passion. Fun.

These tangible character traits are being robbed from a generation.

The axiom “There’s always time to do the right thing” is a message the governor and his public health team should heed quickly. The public isn’t asking to be rewarded like a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum in a grocery store, but rather for its leaders to put faith and trust in a system designed to foster the growth of millions of young men and women.

Untether high school athletics from the colored tier system. Use the wisdom from states that have played already. Allow local jurisdictions to self-govern with a flexibility that allows for better response.

The lack of high school athletics has given clout to club sports exporting California athletes to states like Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Amazingly, without massive negative COVID consequences.

California is hailed a global leader and innovator, yet it can’t figure out how to navigate the pandemic – despite blueprints already handed out.

Having been inside high school athletics, the protocols, training and precautions are rigorous. Let’s trust them to do what they always do – put the students’ welfare at the forefront.

Not because extra curriculars are a right. But because it is the right path to follow.

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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