High school teams took the first cautious steps toward their fall 2020 sports season this week.
Football teams usually begin their workouts in May, so a Monday start means they’re a few weeks behind schedule.
“We should be throwing the ball around out here. We should be playing seven-on-seven. They should know about three-quarters of the playbook by now,” West High head coach Steve Anastasio said on Monday. “We haven’t introduced one play or one defensive scheme yet.”
With the threat of COVID-19 looming over all gatherings, nobody is going back to practice as usual. As they arrived at Steve Lopez Stadium for workouts, the players lined up 6 feet apart, waiting to be assigned to their “pods” — groups of 10 or fewer players who will practice with each other, rather than having the entire team practice as one large unit.
It’s the new way of having a practice as coaches and players minimize exposure to each other because of the possibility that any athlete could be an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus.
“We just want to be safe right now,” Anastasio said.
On Monday, he wanted players to remember what it’s like to runs sprints and drills on the hot turf. They’ll get into the rhythm of their workouts soon enough.
“We don’t want to push it too hard, but we want to make sure our kids have some hope that we’re going to play football this year,” he said. “The coaching staff is totally understanding that most of them have been sitting on the couch for the past six months.”
The California Interscholastic Federation, in a June 12 guideline document, left it up to county health departments and local school districts to determine when it was safe to get student athletes into their summer workouts.
On Friday, San Joaquin County’s public health department cleared the way for another phase of reopening three months after the county issued its initial quarantine orders. School-based programs, as well as gyms and outdoor recreation, were among those that got the go-ahead to reopen.
Across town at Tracy High, head football coach Matt Shrout had about 100 players turn out for the first day of football workouts, which he considered a good turnout after players learned Friday that they could go back to the practice field.
“It’s good to get all the guys out here and see them,” Shrout said. “It’s going to be tough to keep them away from each other because they haven’t seen each other for a long time.”
Tracy High boys water polo coach Jacob Hunter was also getting ready to call his players back to the pool for morning workouts, which he expected would consist of solo ball-handling drills in addition to strength, agility and endurance workouts.
“It’s preseason conditioning, so it’s about getting them in shape. I think we’re going to have a good opportunity to get everybody at a baseline in this limited manner,” Hunter said.
“We’re starting late, but I think in the end we’ll get the kids conditioned. If we have a season, they’re going to be ready to fire. We’ll be ready to go.”
Mountain House High also got some of its athletes into summer workouts this week. Girls water polo coach Nora Bauer said this is the time of year when her team would normally begin its summer conditioning schedule. She had nine players on Monday, which is a good start toward a full roster that could have as many as 16 players.
“Considering that they first found out Friday that they could go through the clearance process and start conditioning today, it’s a really big turnout,” she said. “It’s a good sign for us that we have enough to field a team, and if more come, we’ll have enough for a JV team.”
While she started workouts, she doesn’t know yet how COVID-19 will affect the season.
“We can’t even speculate,” she said. “All I know is that we can start conditioning, so we’re getting ready. I don’t know what will happen with the season, and I haven’t talked to them about that yet. As far as everybody know, we’re going to plan as though it’s going to be a regular season.”
The CIF and representatives of all 10 sections will decide July 20 what the schedule for the fall season will look like. Teams can practice for the rest of the summer with some restrictions. For example, football teams aren’t allowed to have full contact during practice, and use of pads and other equipment is restricted.
This year, the section will drop its usual dead period, which is when only conditioning workouts are allowed in the leadup to the season. Full practice officially begins July 27 for football and Aug. 3 for most other fall sports, such as volleyball, golf and tennis. The first games are tentatively scheduled for Aug. 21.