Let’s play ball!

Athletes cheer the return of sports practices and competitions

Dominic Navarro and Benjamin Tran

After nearly an entire year of postponement, school sports have officially returned in some capacity. From golf to swim to football, many student-athletes hope to salvage their season by participating in sports.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the country, conditioning for football, water polo, and cross country continued with their own training, but after the county hit purple tier status in mid-June of 2020, these sports ceased practices immediately. Athletes were left wondering about the status of practices, conditioning, and competitions. 

“We did not know if we could get any school meets in or competitions because we were so off and on with practices,” cross country and track runner Lalaine DelaCruz, a junior, said. “When COVID [rates] went up we would stop practice and when COVID [rates] went down we would start practice again. It was just the off and on of that.”

Photo by Autumn Kong

The tiered system established in California directly impacted the San Joaquin county sports leagues as high-contact sports such as football or wrestling could not be played if the county was in the purple or red tiers, the tiers that have the highest number of cases in each county. However, the California Department of Public Health updated its guidelines in early 2021 on outdoor and indoor youth and recreational adult sports which allowed these high contact sports to be played in purple and red tier counties. Now a small number of sports, such as cross country and tennis, have played a modified season and several other sports are currently practicing.

 ¨In February, Gov. Newsom announced that outdoor sports would be able to compete if we had 14 cases per 1K people,” Athletic Director Darcy Altheide said. “So most outdoor sports were able to open in February with at least practicing as a team, and competition started for the original purple tier sports, like golf, cross country, tennis, and swim.”

Cross country wrapped up its season at the beginning of March after five official school meets, but their conditioning had started much earlier.

“It has been about two months since the season officially started, but we have been conditioning for about six months or so,” DelaCruz said. 

Before each practice, athletes are required to turn in health logs to their coach, noting any symptoms they may be experiencing and what they are doing to stay safe. Teams are also adapting their normal training and exercises to fit safety regulations. 

“Of course, we’re all outside, we’re not in a building, and we didn’t go into the weight room,” DelaCruz said. “We did alternative exercises on the football field. In general, we’re not allowed to be too close to each other, and on the track, we’re all spaced out by one lane.”

Photo by Autumn Kong

Specific guidelines for other sports such as water polo are left up to the team as well as the coaches.

“The CDC and SJAA recommendations for water polo are not that hard to follow,” water polo coach Nate Bussey said. “It’s mostly just wear your masks until you get in the water right now.”

Athletes have mixed feelings about the return of sports. Some are concerned about their own ability to do well, either from the lack of practice or just very little focus on the sport in general.

 “I expect myself to be a lot worse than last year,” golfer Sarah Dowling, a sophomore said. “I haven’t been out on the course in a while.”

With all of the adjustments to normal sports practices, some athletes expressed difficulty adapting to these new changes and compared current practices to those before the pandemic. 

“A normal tennis practice last year would be some mingling before practice, catching up with people I don’t usually see throughout the day, then getting started, and giving high-fives for good shots,” tennis player Kiarrah Dixon, a junior, said. “This year is most definitely the complete opposite and it’s so hard, especially because I am a very physical person; I like to show others I’m proud of them through a hug or a high five. This year I can’t even get within six feet of someone.” 

Photo by Truong-An Nguyen-Tan

Meanwhile, other athletes just feel glad to be out of the house to socialize with others. In-person practices for cheerleading began near the end of the third quarter and despite not being able to perform their stunts, some cheerleaders say they are content with the new guidelines..

“I just wanted to get back to practice,” senior cheerleader Analisa Jerue said, “so I’m happy with what we have.”

Other athletes share Jerue’s attitude. 

“This season, I just want to have fun and just be happy I get to play a sport I love even in the midst of everything,” Dixon said. 

Contributor: Gavin Orsi