Despite everyone’s best wishes, the condition of the coronavirus in California is only worsening. This comes as terrible news for youth sports organizers who have been putting in effort to ensure a safe athletic season. With a wave of new coronavirus cases following Thanksgiving week, and a growing fear that intensive care unit (ICU) capacity could fill up, five Bay Area counties have gone into lockdown. The lockdown, which went into effect December 6, prohibits “bubbles” that stretch outside of household boundaries, non-essential travel, and rolls back a previous loosening of coronavirus guidelines. Schools which have opened some form of in-person learning are not being mandated to close. Retail and shopping centers are also permitted to remain open albeit at a smaller capacity than normal.
These new guidelines have cast an uncertain future on any sort of scholastic sports in Alameda County. Health officials have yet to set up guidelines that allow the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to set a season schedule. For this reason, the CIF has put full practices and competitions on hold indefinitely. Although full practices are banned, county lockdown guidelines leave room for small group conditioning.
Public schools and their administrators have been put between a rock and hard place in that they must find a balance between giving their students an athletic season, and keeping the greater community safe. Berkeley High School’s (BHS) co-athletic director, Ross Parker, said “All we are trying to do is provide opportunity where we can.” In this spirit, BHS’s girls and boys water polo has recommenced in-water conditioning in four groups of 13 athletes or fewer. Team conditioning seems to be just about the only option for scholastic sports currently.
These conditioning practices are taking place even while the same county lockdown guides prohibit outdoor social gatherings of any kind, whether they are socially distanced or not. Team conditioning like that of the BHS water polo team raises questions about whether these conditioning sessions should be held in addition to if they can be held. In the minds of some, there is no question that right now is not the time to try to bring back youth sports. Unfortunately, there is no obvious answer.
The other way that youth sports have continued since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic is through legally ambiguous non-scholastic teams. Local sports teams not affiliated with a school are often called travel teams. Travel teams are not a part of the bureaucracy of a school and may have the ability to slip under the law when it comes to holding tournaments or practices. In the words of Parker, some teams are “openly violating [coronavirus] rules.” But with no regulators in the mix, the ethical question of whether the outdoor activity and community building is worth the risk is up to coaches and team organizers. Of course, this is further complicated when considering the varying levels of trust in health officials. But without many options, these travel tournaments have persisted.
BHS’s club sports, like the mountain biking team, ultimate frisbee team, or fall crew are officially separate from the school and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the CIF. For this reason, they fall into a similar category to local travel teams in that they can have a lot more leeway in creating a practice or competition schedule. That being said, teams like BHS mountain biking, which are part of larger leagues, have their own set of guidelines to worry about. BHS mountain biking, together with mountain biking teams from Oakland and El Cerrito, are choosing to roughly go along with the CIF’s indefinite postponement of sports. They plan on revisiting the issue at some point in January.
Nick Hoeper-Tomich, head coach of BHS mountain biking, admitted that he is “not super optimistic about [coronavirus] transmission going down in general, just because I am watching trend lines across the country.” This take is frustrating. Still, an unmissable pattern of the last nine months has been that the coronavirus doesn’t just magically disappear. There is no promise of an athletic season in the 2020-21 school year, and no updates are expected until January 2021 at the earliest. This may come as a sobering reminder after the optimism sparked by Pfizer’s success in finding a vaccine for the coronavirus. With there being no hope in purely willing life back to normal, we are left with the only option to work as a community.