For student athletes at Berkeley High School (BHS), the past year has been a roller coaster. As fall and winter sports were cancelled or postponed, players faced uncertainty and disappointment. However, when BHS athletics announced that most sports would be having a shortened season in the spring, excitement ensued. “I felt so relieved and inspired,” shared Felix Mousigian, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) and a forward on the BHS boys soccer team.
Mousigian has been playing soccer on various club teams since he was five years old and joined the BHS team his freshman year. Although he loves and values club soccer, he explained that playing for the BHS team has a completely different level of energy and gratification. “When your classmates come out and support you, when your school is cheering for you from the stands, there’s nothing like that feeling,” he said. Like Mousigian, many soccer players at BHS participate in both school soccer and club soccer; however, due to the latest COVID-19 sports complication, the seasons are now in conflict.
Mousigian’s club team, part of the Spurs FC league, has been playing since late March with minimal contact, masks, and other COVID-19 precautions. Recently, his league began to permit full-contact scrimmages and games, something Mousigian has been appreciating more than ever.
When Mousigian heard that BHS was going to have a soccer season as well, he was beyond excited. He explained, “I missed the majority of my junior year because of an injury, and I was so happy to find out I’d be able to have my senior season.”
However, Mousigian soon received a disappointing email: BHS athletes would be required to choose between playing for their club team and playing for the school’s team. “It was kind of heartbreaking,” said Mousigian of the obligatory choice. “It’s such a tough decision. … There are so many pros and cons to each side.”
Charlotte Dierks, a junior in Academic Choice (AC), felt similarly. She explained that playing club soccer and playing school soccer were entirely different experiences, each with their own benefits. “I would say high school is more about the team spirit, whereas club is kind of a higher level of soccer,” she said. Dierks has been struggling with her decision for several weeks, and is still unsure of which team she will choose as she attends BHS tryouts. “It feels like no matter what I do, I’m letting one team down,” she said.
Both Dierks and Mousigian are frustrated that BHS is one of the only high schools in the area requiring their athletes to choose between club and school teams. “Based on all the information the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has published, and the fact that other schools around us are allowing both teams, I think it’s just an overly-cautious and unnecessary decision,” explained Mousigian.
Guidelines published by the CDC have stated that outdoor sports played with masks are relatively low-risk for serious spread, especially among teenagers. Other schools in the area, like Saint Mary’s College High School and El Cerrito High School, are allowing their students to play on both club and school teams. Dierks and Mousigian both have club teammates that are beginning to play for their school teams as well. “I understand the protocol, I understand the caution, but I just wish that we were allowed to do both,” said Dierks.
Although the situation has been difficult for student athletes, BHS’s decision was made with the well-being of these teens in mind. Minimizing the amount of contact that athletes have minimizes the associated COVID-19 risk. Because soccer is a contact sport, it’s understandable that having multiple sports pods poses a greater risk to the health of athletes. There are so many complex factors contributing to BHS’s policy, including the magnitude of its sports program, and it’s nearly impossible to establish how to best balance students’ eagerness to return to their teams with the caution needed to address the many potential channels of risk that come with such a large population of BHS students.
Some athletes, disappointed with the policy, may still attempt to play for both teams. A BHS junior that preferred to stay anonymous shared that many athletes have been discussing the feasibility of continuing to play for both teams. “If we’re taking proper precautions, and especially if we’re vaccinated, it makes sense that we should be able to play on both teams,” the source shared.
However, if the school finds out that players are continuing to play for their club, they risk getting kicked off the BHS team. Dierks explained that choosing to play for club soccer this season also posed a risk for making the school team next year. “If we don’t play for school this year it’s going to be really difficult to make the team next year. … I don’t want there to be a grudge held against us,” she said.
According to Dierks and Mousigian, most players are waiting until the end of tryouts to make their decision. “I don’t want to play on the school team if all of our best players are doing club,” explained Mousigian. Although tryouts on Monday, April 19, went as planned, the rest of the week’s sessions were cancelled because of several COVID-19 cases on the BHS basketball team — not only an inconvenience, but also a reminder of the continued reality of the pandemic and its reach to BHS.
Soccer practices began again on Wednesday, April 27, with frequent COVID-19 testing. Managing the outbreak was undoubtedly made easier by BHS’s decision to limit players’ athletic commitments. However, it also added to the loss that many student athletes have experienced this year. “I love my teams, I love soccer, and I just want to play as much as I can,” shared Mousigian.