It won’t look anything like normal thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Denair High athletes are looking forward to limited opportunities to compete in some of their favorite sports between now and early June.
Players on the boys and girls golf teams already have had two matches. The lone member of the cross country team – junior Logan Prescott – has run in one race. Football and softball have begun conditioning drills and tightly controlled practices in hopes of kicking off their seasons later this month. Baseball, track and soccer are set to start in mid-April. On hold are boys and girls basketball and volleyball, which may be forced outdoors this spring because of health restrictions.
If it sounds confusing, imagine what Athletic Director Melissa Treadwell, her coaches and their athletes must feel. The only certainty is uncertainty, at least so far.
Still, escaping the yearlong routine of attending classes primarily via Zoom is enough to motivate many young athletes.
“The kids are so excited and full of smiles just to be able to get out of the house and do something with their peers,” Treadwell said. “I have girls who’ve never played golf who took it up because they wanted something to do. … The word is out. The kids are pretty much blowing up (coaches’) emails and phones. They want to know, ‘What’s going on? How do I sign up?’ ”
There are plenty of health protocols that will govern athletics this year. They are intended to keep the athletes – as well as their adult coaches – as safe as possible.
Two weeks ago, the state Health Department released guidelines that allowed sports to begin, depending upon the COVID rates in each county. Unfortunately, Stanislaus County remains in the state’s most restrictive, or purple, tier with COVID rates with hovering at about 16 cases per 100,000 residents. The state says that contact sports like football and soccer can’t be played until the rates are at or below 14 cases per 100,000 residents. When games begin, weekly rapid COVID testing is required for all football and soccer players. Opponents must be notified of positive results within 24 hours.
Those rules don’t apply to golf, cross country, baseball, softball or track, where athletes are spaced out.
On most campuses, the sport with the highest profile is football, and Denair is no different. Football also has the most regulations related to the timing and manner of practice. Conditioning – mostly running and stretching with no balls allowed – must happen for at least a week. Then limited drills with players wearing first helmets and then helmets and shoulder pads can begin. Full practices can’t resume until the county meets the 14 cases in 100,000 standard; teams must have two weeks of practice before a game can be played.
So Denair’s first game – scheduled for March 19 at Orestimba – is still iffy. It will happen only if Stanislaus County meets the required health standard by next Tuesday.
Coach Anthony Armas said his players are excited but realistic.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for some positive news,” he said. “We know we have to hit that number to be able to play. They also know if one of us gets COVID, we’ll have to shut down.”
Denair will have only a varsity football team this spring. Armas said not all his upperclassmen decided to play – some for health reasons, some for personal reasons.
After Orestimba, the Coyotes’ remaining schedule includes an open date March 26 that Armas still is trying to fill, then games April 2 at Riverbank, April 9 at Mariposa and April 16 at home against Waterford. The March 26 game initially was supposed to be against Hughson, but Denair backed out when Hughson was able to schedule Escalon, one of its traditional Trans-Valley League rivals.
Softball is the other sport scheduled to start this month. Denair will open its season March 17 at Orestimba and finish April 30.
Baseball, track, and boys and girls soccer all begin practice April 19 with their first games scheduled about a week later. Their seasons will extend to June 10.
When the Coyotes do begin competing again, it will be in a Southern League reconfigured for this year only. Temporarily out are schools such as Gustine, Delhi and LeGrand, which are part of a Merced County league. Joining SL holdovers Denair, Waterford, Orestimba and Mariposa this spring will be TVL members Hughson and Riverbank.
Still uncertain at this point are the status of boys and girls basketball, volleyball and wrestling. Because all are contested inside the gym, the county must be in the yellow tier – two below where it is today — before they are allowed. Since that appears unlikely, Treadwell said Southern League officials have had initial discussions about moving basketball and volleyball outdoors for this year only. She expects a decision later this month.
In any event, the resumption of some sports – combined with about half the seniors at Denair returning to on-campus classes earlier this week – provides a glimmer of normalcy in what has been a topsy-turvy time.
“A lot of kids are involved in sports and clubs, so bringing this stuff back is really important,” Treadwell said. “I can see it in their eyes and in their excitement.”