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Shasta County Public Health paves way for high school sport practices to begin

High school football practice can begin next week under strict limits after the Shasta County Public Health eased restrictions on athletic participation amid the coronavirus pandemic. (File photo Mike Daly / Shasta County Sports)

It’s a start.

Beginning next week, high school football teams in Shasta County may start conditioning programs after Dr. Karen Ranstrom, public health director, revised the county’s guidelines this week for youth sports practices.

“Shasta County … has allowed many lower-risk businesses to reopen with required modifications,” reads a release from the Shasta County Health and Human Services agency. “Based on the state’s guidance for childcare and fitness facilities, youth sports practices may begin after a plan is created and staff are trained and ready to implement the plan.

“In addition to coaches and staff, participants and parents must be oriented to the plan and agree to adhere to its guidelines. At this point, games, contact sports, and spectators are not allowed.”

State health officials’ announced Friday detailed plans to move to Stage 3 of the statewide reopening plan, which allows individual counties to approve guidelines to begin reopening gyms, bars, campgrounds, professional sports and a wide range of businesses as early as Friday. The state plan also suggests specific guidelines for the reopening of schools this fall.

Shasta County Health and Humans Services Agency spokesperson Kerri Schuette said instead of seeing stages being released wholesale by the state, sectors inside those stages are being opened based on a county’s progress. She said it allows for more flexibility in opening business or things such as youth and high school sports.

“By releasing an athletic plan, it allows teams to create a plan and implement that plan after the staff is trained and meets its compliance,” Schuette said. “Right now, it’s up to our community what happens here. If everyone continues to act as though we’re in pandemic and abide by guidelines set forth, we can progress forward.”

For Foothill High head football coach Joey Brown, that means moving ahead – albeit cautiously – with summer conditioning.

“I’m excited to see the kids, but there’s a certain level of unease about all the protocols and trying to be productive,” he said. “There’s light in this tunnel somewhere. We knew we had to crawl before we could walk. We’re crawling but making progress.”

The Cougars’ leader said the three levels will be running shifts in the weight room and somewhere on campus (the school’s football field is being refurbished). He said the teams would normally be at a football camp or working in the weight room while using field time to install offensive and defensive sets.

“We have some protocols in place, but they’ve already changed over night,” he said. “We have about six different plans in place, but we should have everything finalized tomorrow for the kids.

“I think you’re going to see kids more motivated to get their paperwork turned in than ever before. I also think some normalcy will be good and this gives the incoming seniors some optimism heading into their last year of school.”

He said the Shasta Union High School District has asked for a detailed plan on how social-distance practices would be adhered to and how staff and student safety would be conducted.

Superintendent Jim Cloney said Wednesday that talks began last month with his counterparts in the Red Bluff and Chico school districts after trends started pointing toward a reduction in COVD-19 numbers. He also said the mantle of local control was taken when it became clearer that the CIF was only going to regulate state playoffs and the Northern Section was controlling regional postseason competition.

“We reached out to the schools in our leagues and started Zoom meeting,” Cloney said, noting that the Eastern Athletic League deals with three separate county Public Health Departments. “The discussions broke into two things: How can we resume sports and what can we do about the summer?”

He said the guidelines for returning to action apply to all fall sports, including volleyball, girls golf, boys tennis and cross country, adding they’re trying to work with basketball teams for gym time within the parameters of the restrictions.

“It’s not like there’s going to be summer league,” Cloney said. “We’re stressing conditioning. No scrimmages, no camps.

“But it gets a chance for our kids to get back in the gym.”

Shasta football coach JC Hunsaker said while he’s glad to have movement on the the athletic front, he was hoping to see less restrictive guidelines.

“I respect we’re trying to move forward, but getting done what you used to get done in the summer isn’t even possible,” he said.

Hunsaker said that each coach will be charged to 10 players and those groups are essentially “glued” to each other until the guidelines are revisited — presumably around July 1.

“Dennis (Cahill) gets to only see 10 guys, which will kind of work since he deals with the O-line, but I can only see 10 players out of the program and I’m the head coach,” he said.

Additionally, the district has required each coach pass a germ management class prior to student interaction.

And while teams may lift, run and condition, contact is forbidden. Brown says that forces coaches and their staffs to get creative. He said, for example, that 7-on-7 passing drills might still be able to happen without a defense. Or that offensive linemen – spread out – can start learning footwork and blocking responsibilities.

The move now allows Shasta County programs to join fellow Northern Section schools like Wheatland and Sutter in summer workouts, which West Valley head football coach Greg Grandell is frustrated about “being a month behind” some opponents.

Grandell said he went in front of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors earlier in June to encourage advancement for athletics and thinks his statement might have nudged them in the current direction.

“I told them if we’re going to have a football season, kids are going to run hard, get tackled, block hard and it’s pure negligence to not give them 10 weeks at the minimum to get ready to withstand that type of physicality,” Grandell said. “We’re down to six weeks. We have to get going.”

Grandell said with spring football canceled, he was holding Zoom workouts for the players to do on their own and trying to get players ready. He plans on starting in-person workouts under the statewide guidelines next week, mentioning they have to rework their normal offseason regimen which included an annual football camp that acts as a key factor to why the Eagles are unified program.

With the coronavirus reshaping athletics and socially inequality issues rampant around the country, Grandell thinks football could be a reprieve during this time.

“Our communities need football now more than it has ever needed it before,” Grandell said. “In football, you have people with different political ideals, kids from different races, religions and upbringings, all playing for a common goal and working together in unison. What a perfect picture for the world and the community to see right now.”

Brown echoed Grandell’s sentiment that getting the players ready for the rigors of football is priority one.

“My hope is that the state works with us on getting kids ready,” Brown said, noting that an 18-hour weekly practice limit begins Aug. 1. “With that contract restriction, my hope is that we’re given extra time to get these kids ready (for the contact). The No. 1 thing summer workouts are for is the physical preparation of playing a contact sport.”

The 10 California Interscholastic Federation commissioners are in their second day of meetings to determine the fate and path of sports moving forward in the state amid the coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday, the California Community College Athletic Association Board of Directors unanimously approved a plan to move forward with a modified fall sports schedule that would include an eight-game football schedule provided the state meets Stage 4 guidelines by July 17.

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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