How do BHS Athletes Feel About Returning to Sports?

Athletes are hoping to return to practices with new safety precautions set in place.

Fields, pools, and bleachers have sat empty on the Berkeley High School (BHS) campus since March. Although a return to in-person classes is looking more likely in Berkeley, the future of BHS athletics is still shrouded in uncertainty. 

In early September the BHS Athletic Directors shared a potential plan for a return to practices. This complex vision consists of many safeguards, including training camps in pods of 12 for three-week increments and regular symptom checks. This program requires approval from multiple groups, including the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the North Coast Section (NCS), and the West Alameda County Conference (WACC). It is intended to tide over BHS athletes until the official sports seasons can begin.

The plan for returning to official games and sports seasons is equally complex. BHS is planning to start fall sports tryouts on December 7, which will require pushing back both winter and spring sports. However, that start date remains tentative and is still subject to county requirements. 

All this confusing and uncertain information begs the question: How do athletes feel about these plans?

While some athletes have been participating in practices, either through their club teams, unofficially with groups of other BHS players, or over Zoom, many are still trying to figure out what exactly they would be comfortable with in this new season.

Rocio Lybarger-Yanis, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and a BHS women’s soccer player, emphasized that taking precautions to limit COVID-19 is a must for her. For a safe return to the soccer season, she would likely want the BHS team to be consistently tested and if BHS were to play another team she would also want them to have been tested.

Another preference Lybarger-Yanis expressed was to play without audiences at games. “I’m completely down to be with my team as long as my team is consistently tested and very safe,” said Lybarger-Yanis. “I just wouldn’t really want my parents or other parents to have to take that risk just to watch us,” she explained.

As a senior who has been “looking forward to this season for four years,” Lybarger-Yanis desperately wants to play her sport, but she said she would not hesitate to abstain from playing if she had any concerns about safety. She added, “I love to play more than anything, but if there was some doubt that [not] everybody was safe, I would definitely sit that game out.”

Lucienne Morton, a junior in AC and captain of the women’s crew team, had similar concerns. According to Morton, her team has been doing virtual practices, but they hope to start working out in-person as soon as possible. The guidelines for these practices would likely consist of many of the hallmarks of sports during the pandemic — only 12 athletes per coach, small “cohorts,” and, specific to crew, the exclusive use of single-person boats, instead of the usual “singles,” “doubles,” “fours,” and “eights.” Even if crew returned to in-person practices, it would not be required, according to Morton.

The swim and water polo teams face the additional problem of needing an indoor pool for practices, meets, and games. The curtailment of the season may also mean that the two teams — whose seasons usually do not overlap — would have to share pool time. 

Isabel Augustine, a senior in AC and captain of the women’s swim team, has been practicing outdoors with her club teams. She said she would like to see some of the guidelines used by those groups implemented at BHS, including temperature checks, use of masks when swimmers are not in the water, and limits on the number of swimmers sharing a lane.

These changes may seem small, but even minor adjustments to practice and competition can have significant effects on athletes who have trained for months and years to perform under the specific conditions of high school sports. It may be a challenge for athletes to adjust to these fundamental changes, but many are looking on the bright side. 

Morton explained that this new way of practicing sports may create new opportunities for athletes. “Although this year is definitely going to be way way different from any other year, I think we can probably use this as an opportunity to learn some new things about crew,” said Morton. She explained, “The fact that we’re using singles and the fact that we have to work out on our own really gives people the chance to work on themselves personally; your own technique and your own mentality around the sport.”

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