SALINAS — Nearly a year after the pandemic shut down all sports in California and Monterey County, cross-country has become the first sport in the region to return to practice.
Palma began practicing Monday with close to 15 runners signed up, while Carmel will have its first official cross country practice Wednesday. Monterey is also slated to announce the start of practice this week.
In addition, King City, which has finished in the top five in the state in Division IV the past two years in boys cross-country, will start practice on Feb. 22.
“We’re trying to get kids out and doing stuff,” Palma athletic director Rob Bishop said. “Cross-country is a sport that can happen in our color tier. Let’s get them going.”
Based on the California Health Department’s color tier system, sports in purple can have competition. That would include track and field, golf, tennis and swimming.
The only current sport in the California Interscholastic Federation that can have competition in Season 1 is cross-country, as the other sports eligible in the current color tier format are in Season 2. All sports can start practice, but must follow state protocols if they’re not in the purple color tier.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge,” Bishop said. “Actually it has been a grind. Normally I would have a line of kids outside my office with questions about paperwork and physicals. But we don’t have kids on campus.”
Cross-country meets can begin now, without as much as a practice. The problem may be finding a place to hold a competition, as parks are off limits to large groups.
With the Pacific Coast Athletic League eliminating all schedules for this spring, schools will have to find or arrange meets with other schools that have decided to resume sports.
“The hardest part may be finding a cross-country course,” King City athletic director Anthony Velasquez said. “If there’s no course, we’re not running. We may have to put courses together on campus.”
It’s one of the reasons Velasquez decided to delay the start of practice. In fact, King City will start cross-country and track and field at the same time, along with swimming.
Of course, because boys and girls track, swimming, tennis and golf are a part of Season 2 in the Central Coast Section, competition can’t begin until mid-March.
“Whatever is mandated and most likely to get played are the sports we’re going to start up,” Velasquez said. “We want to give students an opportunity to compete in whatever capacity is deemed safe.”
Carmel has talked about hosting its cross-country meets at Carmel Middle School, which is a part of its district, and could provide a little more cross-country atmosphere, based on its location.
“We’re not looking to be the first, or wait to see what other schools did,” Carmel Athletic Director Golden Anderson said. “We wanted to move when we felt the time was right for our students.”
While cross-country is the only sport that can currently compete in Season 1 based on color tiers, Carmel will start field hockey, football, volleyball and water polo practices on Feb. 22.
Because those sports aren’t in the purple tier, all will have to be conducted under state health protocols, which is 6 feet apart and outdoors.
“We felt that with the systems we have in place internally and the state guidance, we could offer a path to our students engaging with the coaches and their teammates,” Anderson said.
Carmel has a tentative plan to have all Season 1 sports climax on March 27, allowing athletes to move to Season 2.
Currently, the State Health Department and CIF will not allow athletes to practice in more than one sport during the pandemic to avoid interaction with other athletics from other sports.
That is part of the reason the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District has continued to have cohort conditioning for all of its sports, although cross-country will move apart from that.
The Salinas Union High School District’s Board of Managers will meet on Feb. 9 to discuss the return of conditioning on its five high school campuses. There has been no discussion on practice dates.
Justin Clymo, Stevenson’s athletic director and boys basketball coach, says the school will continue with its conditioning for all sports, which began back in October.
“Nothing has changed,” Clymo said. “We will offer an aquatic and field section. It’s all fundamentals. There’s no equipment involved. We’re trying to focus on their social well being by using training as a vehicle to do that.”
The Pacific Grove Unified School District has held conditioning for Season 1 sports, while the North Monterey County Unified School District has yet to even have conditioning.
Palma will also start golf practice on Feb. 15, with the intention of starting tennis and perhaps swimming and track and field at the end of the month.
Golf can officially have a match on March 8, with swimming and tennis on March 22.
“We’ll stick to the CCS’s Season 2 plan for those sports for when competition begins,” Bishop said. “Our issue right now is finding a place to practice for swimming and tennis.”
The Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League adopted its own plan for just this school year, opting out of the CCS and moving sports around based on three seasons. All of its events will be within the county.
In addition, the SCCAL took seven schools from the PCAL — all of which are in Santa Cruz County — for the spring to enable them an opportunity to compete in their county bubble.
All other sports at Palma will continue to just condition, so that multi-sport athletes aren’t limited to just one sport, most of which are either currently in the red, orange or the yellow color tier.
“The big question is still football,” Bishop said. “So many of our kids play football. So we’re hanging on taking a look at this month to see what the state and county does to see if it can happen.”
Time is not on football’s side as CIF doctors have said the season must end no later than April 27. Plus all equipment must be conditioned through Riddell, which can take four months at a cost of $10,000 to $20,000. Football’s starting date for 2021 is slated for Aug. 9.
“We’re gonna wait until the end of the month,” Bishop said. “Once we get to that point, then we will look to open up our practices to other sports. We’ll have a clearer picture one way or the other. It makes more sense to just have conditioning and not penalize a kid for other sports.”