‘We’re getting closer to normal:’ Lots of excitement, questions as prep sports get up and running again
The seasons will be truncated, there are strict scheduling restrictions, there won’t be playoffs of any kind and having spectators in the stands will likely be limited. It’s not high school sports as usual but, for many, simply getting to compete at all is a victory in itself.
“From the very beginning of this whole thing we asked our kids, ‘what would make this worth it for you?’” Bear River Athletic Director and football coach Scott Savoie said. “They told me as a team that playing once would be enough, and I’m so pleased we’re going to be able to that this season.”
While some low-contact outdoor sports have already begun competition, a week ago there remained some uncertainty about when, and if, certain other prep sports would see the field this year.
California health officials quelled some of that uncertainty last Friday by easing several rules concerning outdoor youth athletics, allowing for several other sports to resume in counties where COVID-19 case rates are at or below 14 people per 100,000. Nevada County is among more than 20 counties in California that fall within that criteria.
The change allows for sports like baseball, softball and cheerleading to resume activities. High-contact sports such as football can also return to the field as long as all coaches and players get tested once a week. Test results must be available within 24 hours of competition. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would foot the bill for the testing.
Since the announcement, the outdoor facilities at Nevada Union and Bear River high schools have become peppered with various prep teams and athletes honing the necessary skills to be successful in their chosen sport.
“There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of smiles,” said Nevada Union Athletic Director Dan Crossen. “There’s also a lot of question marks on how things are going to play out because there are still a lot of things out of our control, but it looks like we’re moving in the right direction.”
California high school sports are broken down into four tiers.
The purple tier consists of outdoor low-contact sports such as cross-country, golf, tennis, swimming, track and field, skiing and snowboarding. These sports were allowed to begin competition in late January.
“To see the kids race is a victory in itself,” said NU cross country coach Kevin Selby, whose team had its first competition Jan. 30 and will close the season with a meet in Auburn on Saturday.
In the red tier (outdoor moderate-contact), sports like baseball, softball and volleyball can begin competition. Those sports are expected to start in April.
The orange tier (outdoor high-contact) includes football, soccer, water polo and rugby, among others. Beginning today, local orange tier sports can begin competing as long as the county’s adjusted COVID rate is equal to or less than 14 per 100,000, and any additional guidelines such as mandatory testing are met.
And finally, the yellow tier (indoor high-contact) sports such as basketball and wrestling can compete. Those sports will likely have to wait until May to start competing.
“I would say a month ago I was less confident that we could get there, but we’re trending in the right direction as a county and the reality is we could possibly get to that yellow tier,” said Crossen. “We’re excited, putting the pieces together and figuring out the logistics. We’re going with the flow and we’re adapting and that’s everybody from our players, coaches, parents, staff members on campus and the administration. Our district has been extremely supportive in making sure we have the ability to do what we’re doing.”
‘THEY NEED A WIN’
With the absence of athletics and a traditional school setting coupled with the rigors of life during a pandemic for nearly a year, many students have fallen on hard times, said Crossen, adding that he sees athletics as a step toward healing.
“They are struggling, for sure,” he said. “That’s one thing we talk about a lot. Making sure we’re here for them because they are having a hard time. The reality is their entire world was upended through no fault of their own. We’re extremely hopeful that we can at least give them the outlet sports provide. Give them that emotional and social outlet they have been lacking … My hope is we can use athletics to heal in a way. This community, our kids especially, have been through a lot and they need a win. They need something to look forward to and they need something to motivate them and I’m hopeful athletics can help.”
Savoie noted the change in demeanor of student-athletes has been easily identifiable since sports have returned.
“We’re getting closer to normal,” he said. “We’re not there yet, because we’re not in school enough. But, when you see the kids at school and at practice you can just see it in their eyes — they’re happy.”
STAYING ON TRACK
While things are trending in the right direction, everything can all change depending on the COVID-19 numbers that week.
Crossen and Savoie both noted they are asking all student-athletes and coaches to strictly follow the guidelines set forth by the California Department of Public Health’s Youth Sports Guidelines. While student-athletes and coaches are doing their best to self-report COVID-19-like symptoms, mask up, social distance and wash hands regularly, whether they compete or not isn’t fully in their hands.
“It’s going to take our entire community to do their part to eradicate (COVID-19) from our community, which will allow us to have the conditions needed to put on these events,” said Crossen. “Not just for the kids, their parents and their peers, but the public as well.”
PLAYING CLOSE TO HOME
As far as the competition goes, local high school teams will be limited to facing only opponents from Nevada County or the counties that directly neighbor it. While it means several traditional foes like Rio Linda or Ponderosa won’t appear on the schedule this year for NU, there will be lots of local bragging rights earned.
“We’ve made sure we have enough matches and games,” said Crossen. “We fill in with a Bear River here, and a Colfax there, and we even scheduled Truckee for several of our sports as well.
“We’re all just trying to figure what we can do. Stay within that lane and make it all about the kids and make it about providing them with the best experience as we can.”
A particularly interesting match up is a football clash between NU and Bear River scheduled for March. 12. It will mark the first time the two schools have faced off on the gridiron in an official game.
“I think it will be good for our community,” said Savoie. “I feel like we’re brother schools. We’re in the same district. Obviously, Bear River is quite a bit smaller, but so be it. These are interesting times and Coach (Brad) Sparks and I thought it would be a great match up, especially in these times. I think there will be a lot of excitement about that.”
FANS IN THE STANDS?
As currently stated by the state’s youth sports guidelines, only immediate household members of student-athletes and coaches will be permitted to attend events.
“We’re still working that out,” said Savoie. “But there will be fans in the stands. Our district is working out what that formula will be, but there will be fans in the stands.”
If things do stay on track and all sports are able to compete, the sporting schedules for local high schools will be busy as they try to pack a year worth of sports into five months.
“The schedule is insanity, but it’s the best kind of insanity,” said Crossen. “We are 100% excited about the opportunity to do those things.
“It’s looking sunny outside and we’re looking to play.”
For updated information concerning sports schedules and COVID-19 restrictions visit nevadaunion.njuhsd.com/Athletics.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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