BHS Plans for School Athletics During Pandemic

Berkeley High School (BHS) has developed a new plan for sports and athletics during this unprecedented school year. The safety and health of each student, faculty, and family member connected to BHS is a top priority for the school at this time. According to Ross Parker, one of the school’s two Athletic Directors, “All safety guidelines and the safety of our students will be [of] top priority. Educational opportunities [are] also a top priority.”

As the situation regarding COVID-19 continues to change and develop in both our local community, country, and world, the rules and regulations surrounding life during the time of a global pandemic continue to evolve. For the time being, it is definite that a traditional competitive fall sports season is impossible due to the current climate surrounding the virus in California. Nonetheless, BHS is working hard with local public health officials to organize a fall conditioning camp schedule, so that student athletes can continue to stay active and ready for whenever they are able to practice and compete again. “It is our hope that we [might] have conditioning [programs in place] sometime soon, but even that would be really structured under public health guidance; in pods of 12 and cohorts with symptom checks,” notes Parker. BHS hopes these camps can begin in early September, running in three week-long increments until official sports seasons can begin. 

The school’s other Athletic Director, Robin Van der Vegt, commented on the matter saying they, “Hope to get opportunities as quickly as possible for as many students as possible to be able to participate in sports. [However,] that is all contingent upon public health, and willing coaches.” Ultimately if a fall conditioning plan is approved, coaches and athletes need to be comfortable with all the possible exposures and risks that come with social interactions during the pandemic, even if they are deemed safe by public officials.

 For BHS to hold any sort of official practice or season, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and the North Coast Section (NCS) must approve the program. The CIF recently developed a two season plan for the 2020-21 school year in place of the usual three season system — winter, fall, and spring — for all NCS schools. “Everyone has a season and is scheduled to play this year, but instead of starting in August everything is pushed back and starting in December,” explains Vegt. The cross country, field hockey, football, cheer, volleyball, and water polo teams will all be labeled as fall sports, with tryouts schedules to begin in December. The badminton, soccer, swimming, tennis, wrestling, basketball, golf, baseball, track, softball, and lacrosse tryouts are schedules to take place in February. In addition to the needed CIF and NCS approval of this plan, it is also necessary for the West Alameda County Conference (WACC) to deem the program safe and acceptable for use within the school system before it is implemented. 

An important aspect to consider when it comes to the two season plan is whether BHS has the space and capacity to hold all of these sports seasons during such a condensed time period. According to Parker, “Teams, along with us, are going to have to get creative. [Coaches] are going to have to be able to communicate with parents and players.” BHS will use all resources available to ensure that teams get as much practice and playing time as possible. 

However, high school athletics are not the only ones being affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Club and college teams will also be vying for field space as soon as they can. “Traditionally… soccer clubs cannot operate during [the same time as the] high school soccer season,” says Parker. However, that rule is being suspended this year. Coaches and sport administrators from all around the Bay Area will be in constant contact as they try to divy up field space and time as fairly as possible.

Ultimately the goal for BHS sports is to get as many people playing as soon as it is safe to do so. “We are going to try [and] make sure that everyone has equal [opportunities] and equal access…. Every team, every gender, every level of varsity and sub-varsity; every kid essentially. But we are also going to all have to recognize that there will be trade-offs,” says Parker. 

As the future of BHS sports and athletics remains uncertain, the resilience and passion that student athletes have consistently brought to their sports in the past are now more necessary than ever before.

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