San Benito High School moved one step forward to getting student-athletes back to the playing field as the state lifted the region’s stay-at-home order, allowing at least one of the programs to compete this year.
Athletic Director Tod Thatcher announced that the Fall Season 1—which includes eight sports programs—will start Feb. 1 and they will be permitted to conduct either “normal” or “limited” activities, coinciding with the county’s color tiered system developed by the California Department of Public Health.
Cross country and sideline cheer will be the first two programs in the county allowed to compete in the most restrictive purple tier.
“Basically we’re saying that our fall sports, while they fall on multiple different tiers from purple to orange, we are going to start working towards what we can do to prepare for another school,” Thatcher said.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a guideline in regards to youth sports, giving Thatcher and dozens of other schools in the state a guide for high school sports. The state’s four-tier, color-coded classification system includes purple (widespread), red (substantial), orange (moderate) and yellow (minimal).
Cross country and cheer fall under what Thatcher calls “normal” sport activities, which means the programs will prepare to compete against another school when criteria are met and competition dates are set.
“Obviously, what cross country is doing is going to be very different from what football can do because cross country is actually in the purple and they’re going to run races,” he said. “Football is in the orange and we may never have an actual game.”
Thatcher said that the athletics department has managed to organize more than 450 student-athletes to participate in small cohorts of 14 per coach. The cross country team will transition from small cohorts to team cohorts, allowing them to practice as a single unit.
Fall sports designated in the “limited” category will be modified to maintain required spacing to meet CDPH and California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) guidelines. Those programs include field hockey, boys’ and girls’ water polo, girls’ volleyball and football.
Thatcher explained that field hockey would move to the “normal” activity category if San Benito County moves to the red tier, while water polo, volleyball and football would move to “normal” if the county moves to a less restrictive orange tier.
All six counties in the Central Coast Section are currently in the purple widespread tier. Other sports would be allowed limited athletic activities until their particular tier is reached by the county.
Competitions, meets, races or similar events are authorized only if both teams are located in the same county or if they are immediately bordering counties, according to the CIF. Out of state competition is not allowed at this time.
The Pacific Coast Athletic League Board of Managers met Jan. 21 and they voted to suspend the formal league schedules in all sports for the remainder of the year effective immediately.
Commissioner Tim McCarthy issued a press release stating the move was done to give student-athletes at all 34 league schools, their districts and governing boards a chance to participate in some kind of sports activity.
“The driving force behind the board’s decision was to provide each school the greatest opportunity to practice and compete as each county’s status and state health rules allow,” he said. “With PCAL spanning four counties, and with the real possibility that some counties will slip into less restrictive Covid tiers before others, the board concluded that it was more important that individual schools have the ability to react quickly as conditions allow, rather than be tied to a league schedule that might involve schools from more restrictive counties. While PCAL is a league structured around competitive equity, the mental and physical well-being of student-athletes is the No. 1 priority in these unprecedented times.”
Thatcher’s next move now is to figure out who the Haybalers are going to race since they won’t be competing in a league, at least not as of right now. He’ll be reaching out to schools in neighboring counties that are moving forward with a season, hoping to find eight others who are willing to compete in a dual meet.
He mentioned there might be some interest in connecting with Palma High School in Salinas as they have started to get their sports programs in order. He said at some point its cross country team will be able to race, which means they could possibly meet at some point.
Thatcher said the start date for spring sports will come at a later date to reflect the CCS calendar for competition and end dates for each sport. He also noted that current CIF bylaws require that each student-athlete may only participate in one sport at a time, including off-campus clubs and travel teams.
The main priority for Thatcher is to keep the kids, coaching staff and anybody involved with the athletic program in a safe environment.
“If that means progressing along where we can actually compete versus another school, fantastic,” he said. “If that means we’re just never competing but our kids are coming to the campus, they have connectivity with their coaches, their teammates and they’re still able to develop their skills for future play, then I think that’s a win, too.”