‘It’s been a wild ride’: Nevada County sports scene continues trend toward normalcy | TheUnion.com

‘It’s been a wild ride’: Nevada County sports scene continues trend toward normalcy

The Nevada Union Miners varsity boys volleyball team celebrates on the floor after a score Thursday evening against the Bruins.
Photo: Elias Funez

It’s just good to be back playing.

That’s been the most common refrain around local fields, courts and diamonds for the last six months as the Nevada County sports scene has reemerged from COVID-19 shutdowns.

From high school sports to Little League to the Gold Country Grand Prix to the Go for The Gold Regatta, Nevada County sports have returned almost in full after being shuttered for nearly a year.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Nevada Union Athletic Director Dan Crossen. “But, I think that when we go through these moments, these challenges of difficulty and strife, we as a group come together and I think we saw that these past six months.”

JV Bruins softball players look to turn a double play on the field during a game earlier this year against the Nevada Union Miners.
Photo: Elias Funez

Local high schools recently wrapped up a jam-packed spring sports season in which most of their athletic programs were able to compete, with some faring better than others when it came to the amount they were able to compete. Programs had to contend with several issues, including weekly testing, scheduling restrictions, COVID-related quarantines and overlapping sports. Despite the many obstacles along the way, Crossen said the past six months have been a success.

“We set out at the beginning of the season with kind of altered expectations. Usually we’re competing for league championships, section titles, and have dreams of going to state,” said Crossen. “This year, we regarded a win as getting our kids out there and competing. And, on that front, it was a rousing success.”

Nevada Union senior and four-sport athlete J.T. Conway said the experience was a strange but a positive one in the end.

“It was actually really fun to be able to have the opportunity to play that many sports in one season,” said Conway, who played on NU’s football, basketball, volleyball and baseball teams. “It was chaotic at times, but really fun to be able to be a part of that many teams and play that many games.”

Nevada County Bocce club members don their face coverings as they take part in an outdoor tournament in April.
Photo: Elias Funez

With no postseason for Sac-Joaquin Section member schools this school year, Conway noted the approach to competition was a bit different as well.

“It definitely changed the mentality and made it to where it was more of a compassionate environment for everybody on the team,” he said. “It was for us to have fun and get better. We still strived to win, but that wasn’t the be all, end all. It was really just about having fun.”

Conway said he also learned something about himself along the way.

“I think I learned that I have more in me than I thought, effort-wise and time management-wise,” said Conway, who plans on attending UC Davis in the fall. “I can fit more in. And, my body is capable of more than I thought possible.”

A group of Bear River and Nevada Union long distance runners take off at the sound of the starting gun Wednesday at Hooper Stadium.
Photo: Elias Funez

Bear River senior and four-year varsity volleyball player Weston Prosser also focused the pandemic-altered spring season in a positive light.

“Overall, I can’t really say one thing is really worse than another,” he said after his final game as a Bruin. “I’m happy we have who we have, and I’m happy we had kids that came out that don’t usually play. We got to diversify the team more and get them ready for the next season.”

And that seemed to be the most common approach for most senior student-athletes — help bring along the younger players.

“I just want to be a role model for the younger guys and help us win games,” Bear River senior Nick Baltz said ahead of the baseball season. “There’s no league season and no playoffs this year, so I just want to win the games we have and prepare the guys for the upcoming years.”

It wasn’t high school athletics as usual, with sports falling into different tiers and having to contend with different testing, mask and scheduling restrictions, but Crossen said he expects things to get closer to normal in the fall. However, he’s anticipating some pandemic-related restrictions to be in place.

“I think there is going to be more normalcy than there was during this modified season,” he said. “I don’t foresee any sort of repeat of this last year with shifting athletic calendars … I do anticipate there will be some form of regulation, but they won’t be as strict as they have been these past few months.”

The Nevada Union High School wrestling mats were brought outside to Hooper Stadium to allow for one home wrestling meet before the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Photo: Elias Funez


Local recreational sports leagues and major sporting events have also returned, or plan to return at some point this year.

Recreational softball players across several leagues (men’s, co-ed, fastpitch, senior) have peppered diamonds across the county for months now, and local Little Leagues recently closed out their regular seasons and are now gearing up for the upcoming postseason and All-Star tourneys.

“It’s been awesome to have the kids out there playing,” said Nevada City Little League President Josh Van Matre. “Feels like we’re getting back to normal, a little bit.”

The Gold Country Grand Prix, a popular local running series, is welcoming runners back for in-person races as well, most recently with the Run for the Community 5K held at Twin Cities Church in Grass Valley.

On the water, the Gold Country Yacht Club recently held the Go for the Gold Regatta on Scotts Flat Lake after having to nix the 2020 event.

The Barbara Schmidt-Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon is on the calendar in September this year after canceling in 2020. The event will be a duathlon this year due to low water levels. Registration for the event begins July 1.

As for the Nevada City Classic, which has been a Father’s Day weekend staple in past years, race organizers are still trying to determine when and if a race will take place in 2021, or possibly 2022.


Something that became apparent with the shutdown of sports was how important of a role athletics play in the mental wellbeing of athletes of all ages.

For many young athletes, the absence of sports was extremely taxing, and the return of organized sports helped alleviate some of those woes.

“I think it’s really good for everyone who has been locked up in their houses, and unable to practice, to be out here,” said Nevada Union’s Gabe Baker ahead of the football season. “It’s really important to all of us. Everyone’s mood changed in a good way once we started practicing again.”

Despite the many hurdles and complications along the way, many of the local sports organizations showed patience and when the time came, were ready to roll.

“I think, hopefully as a state and I know locally, we learned we can play in a pandemic,” Crossen said. “We can play with adjusted rules and regulations, but we can still compete.”

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com

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