With so much uncertainty surrounding the state of COVID-19, it’s impossible to predict when things may start to return to normal. Just as businesses began to reopen and there was talk of in-person school, case numbers began to rise and forced the Bay Area back into lockdown. High school sports have experienced the volatility of the pandemic firsthand, with continuous postponements that have affected many student athletes and school communities in general.
The most recent update by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) was initially released on December 14, 2020, then reaffirmed on January 4, and includes a tier system ranking sports by their risk level, with January 25 as the earliest possible date for competition between schools. The tier system directly correlates to the tiers each county is placed in based on COVID-19 case levels, and takes into consideration the contact involved in a given sport, as well as whether it takes place indoors or outdoors.
The first tier of sports is permitted when counties are in the widespread tier, known as the purple tier, and includes low-contact outdoor sports like cross country, golf, and tennis. The second tier is allowed when counties are in the substantial tier, known as the red tier, and includes moderate-contact outdoor sports like baseball, cheerleading, and field hockey. The third tier is permitted when counties reach the moderate tier, known as the orange tier, and includes high-contact outdoor sports like football, soccer, and rugby, or low-contact indoor sports like volleyball and swimming. The final tier of sports is allowed when counties enter the minimal tier, known as the yellow tier, and includes moderate-contact and high-contact indoor sports like basketball, water polo, and wrestling.
This system organizes sports into easily understandable risk categories, but it means that even with substantially improved COVID-19 management, high-contact sports could still take an extended period of time to reopen due to their dependency on case numbers. Many sports have already been pushed back due to the CIF’s decision to condense the traditional three seasons of sports into two, giving fall sports a later start, and will now continue to be postponed.
As of now, Berkeley is currently in the purple tier of COVID-19, which means cross country, golf, and tennis are among the only sports that may be able to restart if sports begin on January 25. The current daily average of new cases in Berkeley is 24, and in order to move down to the orange tier, and begin reopening other sports, the daily average needs to drop to less than 8 cases.
Robin Vegt and Ross Parker, the athletic directors for Berkeley High School (BHS), have been working to provide athletic opportunities for students even within the constraints set out by the CIF, Alameda County, District 13, and the City of Berkeley. “We are all trying to act in the best interest of student and community safety, as well as give students as much access to sports as we possibly can,” Vegt said. “Our hope is that we could have full seasons of sports and that students would be able to fully participate, but as that gets less and less likely, we are constantly doing everything we can to provide as many opportunities for students as possible.”
However, with so many restrictions preventing the reopening of sports, socially distanced conditioning is the only available opportunity for students as of now. All fall sports at BHS have been postponed, and although players are able to condition in small pods, their inability to practice as usual has unquestionably taken an effect on student athletes.
Eliza Fosket-Hydes, a senior at BHS, has played water polo for BHS since her freshman year, and views it as an outlet. She said, “It’s been really hard because I’ve always done sports, and they’ve always helped me mentally as well as physically, and now I can’t practice or play like I used to.”
Fosket-Hydes isn’t alone in that experience, and although sports don’t look the same, and most likely won’t for a while, student athletes can take solace in the fact that the administration is doing everything they can to provide athletic opportunities. Parker said, “We still have schedules in place. We still want kids to register. Although we don’t know what’s going to happen with the virus, we’re ready should there be some sort of green light. There’s still a long time left in this school year, so we’re going to continue trying to get kids out there in whatever safe ways we can.”