MUSD Director of Athletics optimistic about sports in 2021
Madera Tribune File Photo
In a usual year, the Sports section of The Madera Tribune on the issue after Thanksgiving would feature highlights from the CIF State Cross Country Championships like last year, featuring Unique Ford (Madera). Unfortunately, this isn’t a normal year and cross country, as well as other sports, haven't stepped foot on a court, field or in a pool, officially, this school year.
After a figurative gut punch after hearing California Governor Gavin Newsom’s latest news conference a couple of weeks ago, Madera Unified School District’s Director of Athletics Marty Bitter is still hoping for athletics in 2021.
“Yesterday, the statement came out said Governor Newsom disclosed that the release of youth sports guidance has been postponed,” Bitter said. “The current guidance remain in effect and CIF competitions are not allowed until the new guidance is provided. We’re in a holding pattern from the governor’s office. With the increase in spike, we’re not allowed to have competitions.”
Basically, athletics may not be able to proceed if counties are in the ‘Purple’ tier. However, Bitter thinks some may be contested if counties reach the Red’ tier, but it takes cooperation from the community.
Bitter emphasizes wearing masks, staying socially distanced, be mindful of others and stay away from gatherings.
“Yesterday was a really hard day for me because I’ve been optimistic through the whole process,” Bitter said in a phone interview Nov. 16. “I got a little bit of that. I was a little discouraged whether or not we could pull this off. In the fall season, I could see getting down into red and participating in cross country, tennis and golf. They are pretty much socially distanced and are outdoor activities. I don’t’ see until we even get to orange that we could play football. I could see volleyball, basketball and soccer in orange. I don’t see us getting to wrestling until yellow. That is going to be really hard.”
Bitter was hoping to hear guidelines sent down quickly because the scheduled start date for practicing football is Dec. 7 and Dec. 9 for other sports.
“We have been at a little bit of a crossroads,” he said. “We have come closer and closer to a start date.”
Despite the slowdown, Bitter hopes to get started with athletic competitions in the near future and plans on it until the governor says otherwise.
“Getting to Thanksgiving, we haven’t heard anything,” Bitter said. “The CIF has a calendar with a schedule of events. Each section took the championship dates the state put out and they work backwards with the playoffs and the start date. Everyone kept asking what the state is going to do. It’s not the State CIF’s responsibility to determine whether we’re playing or not. The CIF has a schedule and it is out. It will stay in tact. We are planning on playing unless the Governor or the Governor’s office tells us we can’t play.”
One of the things bothering Bitter is the practice time the teams get. If they can’t have competitions yet, can the teams practice?
“We’re still in purple in Madera,” he said. “We have not gotten to a point where we can’t practice. We’ve increased the size of our practice squads. We would have a tough time in competition, anyway. In football, we haven’t even had a practice with the whole team together. To say we’re going to start on Dec. 7 or 9 and we haven’t been together, meeting the timeframe is going to be difficult.”
However, the next stage for athletics to begin is in Governor Newsom’s hand.
“What we offered is a guidance of what can and can’t be done in each of the governor’s tiers.” Bitter said. “We’re in purple tier, you can do this, which is nothing. If we’re in red tier, then these sports can participate. If we’re in orange, then these sports can participate. Right now, it’s at a point where we’re waiting for guidance from the governor’s office.”
Bitter sees it tough sledding for close contact sports like football, soccer and basketball and thinks it will be really tough for wrestling. However, he does see the light for other sports.
“I could see baseball and softball in that red tier and maybe track and field,” he said. “If we got to orange in the fall, I could also see water polo. I could see, possibly, swimming if we were in red.”
Bitter and the district has already laid out a plan for some of the sports, including football and the way the schedule is done in the Central Section.
“In football, we’re pushing for spectators, 25 percent,” he said. “Photographers will be in the end zone, cheerleaders will be in the stands, we’re extending the sideline for social distance, if you’re on the sidelines, you’re wearing a mask and the coaches are wearing a mask. We have to take all of these precautions to make this happen. In volleyball, if you’re not in the game, you wear a mask. Some states are playing with a mask. There are a lot of precautions we are going to look at. It comes down to the guidance from the governor. I don’t start seeing the games until January. We have some leeway in the schedule. If we have to, we take out the state championship games and that gives us a week. We can also cut a week from the section playoffs. If we have to, we will take out the preseason games and just go with league. The way I look at it, if we get five football games, it’s a win.”
In addition to coordinating within his own district, Bitter and other athletic directors have to go over protocols in other counties besides their own.
“We have to make decisions as a district.” Bitter said. “If we’re in purple and Fresno Unified is in red and Bullard is supposed to travel to Madera High, is that game canceled? Do we switch a home site. Does the district allow us to go to Bullard to participate? We’re working within our league so a protocol is similar no matter where we go. The reality is right now is the CIF has a schedule and is planning to move forward on the schedule unless we get guidance from the governor that we cannot participate.”
One of the advantages high school athletics has is that most of the athletes are minors and are almost required to have guardians present.
“We feel and the CIF feels that we’re in a different situation than the college and the pros,” Bitter said. “ In high school, you’re putting out minors. If a kid gets hurt and you don’t allow parents in, that’s a slippery slope. We’re trying to make it so the parents can watch their children play.”
Bitter and the district have already tried to move forward so that spectators can be in the stands. They have partnered with a company to provide contactless tickets and a system to provide a snack bar pick-up.
“We’re working on a cashless system from entry to exit of a game,” he said. “The board is kind enough to approve and company called GoFan, a partner of CIF, for a ticketless entry system We would release tickets in advance and each player would receive four tickets and the parents would have the opportunity to purchase their four tickets. When they go to the game, they walk in, show their phone with a QR code and they scan that. They would go through the temperature check and sit down. We’re working on socially distancing in the facilities so they are in small groups.
“The board just approved a app called FanFood, where we’re developing a product with our snack bar. They will make a menu for each of our schools and sports. You go on the app or the web. You click which snack bar, up comes the menu, you scroll through and choose your item. You check out, pay with a credit or debit card. It sends it to the snack bar and it comes over the iPad and the hardware provided. They bag the items, marks complete and it sends a text to the spectator. We have a table set outside and the person comes to pick up their product. We’re eliminating standing in line and congregating by the snack bar.”
Another way to allow fans to watch the game without going to the game is the district is looking into livestreaming games.
“Spectators that aren’t allowed, we’re looking at livestreaming our games so people that can’t get a ticket can still view our games,” he said. “Our plan is not to put just football on the stream. We’re going to try to stream as many games as we can.”
Basically, Bitter says it comes down the community doing the right thing to get the county to drop down in tiers — wear your mask, stay socially distance and avoid large gatherings — and we may get athletics in 2021.