Outdoor sports given OK to play


Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Madera Coyote boys cross country runners begin a dual meet race Wednesday against the Sanger Apaches. California Governor Gavin Newsom gave the okay last week for outdoor sports to begin practices and competition.

With the recent numbers from the Madera County Department of Public Health, most outdoor athletic competitions can get ready to play, whether it is a full season or a partial season, according to Madera Unified School District Director of Athletics Marty Bitter.


After suggesting a couple of weeks ago after announcing that practices were resuming at MUSD, Bitter said there would be some good news down the pipe. The new news is a version of the good news he thought was coming.


“This was the good news from two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s a little different than I originally thought. I thought we might be eliminating the tiers. That is the direction of things were going to start shoring up with the evidence that shows that playing sports can be done safely if done properly. Since we started our practices on Feb. 3, we haven’t had a case spread through our practices in our three high schools. For me, to go out there and see kids participating, was great. It’s smaller events, but we are able to have them.”


In order for outdoor sports to begin competing, Madera County’s infection rate had to drop below 14 per 100,000. Before last week, it was at 17. In an announcement Tuesday, the numbers dropped to 13.6 per 100,000, giving the okay to open competition for outdoor sports.


“All of our outdoor sports in any of the tiers are eligible to begin play,” he said. “They were given the green light from the governor’s guidance. Our league, with water polo, they have a plan to move water polo deeper in the school year to get a season. We were thinking of having a swim season, then pausing to have a month of water polo and then returning to the swim playoffs. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”


This is good news for the outdoor sports, but Bitter maintains that the county has to keep trending down in the number of cases to continue on this path of competition.


“That’s the first thing that has to happen is to get below that 14 threshold,” Bitter said. “In the governor’s updated guidelines, all of our students have to show a negative text within 24 hours of a competition. With that being said, we have to figure out where are all of these kids going to be tested. The governor said the state would pay for it. At this point, we have no plan or protocol from them on how that is going to take place. We’ve heard there’s a possibility to train people to do the testing. We were thinking we can train our trainers to test the kids. But, where do we set up labs.in order to get the tests completed? In case of other sports that require it like water polo and soccer who are playing multiple games per week, do they have to have two tests per week? The volume of tests and lab results is extensive. We have not seen the plan from the state to how we’re going to test and get results. We’re waiting for that and that’s step No. 2. Then, you have to go through your acclimation period. For football, it’s two days helmets, two days helmets and shells and then fifth day in pads. You have to have 10 days of padded practice before competition. When you hand out helmets, you have to have 14 days of practice before competition.”


Bitter said Governor Gavin Newsom’s guidelines went into effect Friday, which can open practice windows for teams like football on Monday.


“If we issued helmets on March 1, our first chance to play would be March 19,” he said. “That’s three weeks. If everything went well, it would be best to shoot for March 26. Now, the CIF Central Section and the state have moved the finishing date from April 17 to May 1. That gives us a little more time. We would have 5-6 weeks of football and we would play our league contests.”


In addition, Bitter also said the state is allowing athletes to participate in multiple sports during the same season.


“Kids can play multiple cohorts (sports) at the same time,” he said. “The problem is going to be if we have a football and baseball guy. That baseball player has to think to forego half his baseball season for football. Or is baseball going to be okay for someone to come out to baseball after playing football during the same season. Those are something coaches have to work through. From a district standpoint, this particular year, with all the things the kids have lost, we’ve emphasized to our coaches to do whatever you can to allow kids to participate as much as they can to give them an opportunity.”


Unfortunately, one of the sports that may have a problem to get going is girls volleyball.


“It’s one of the sports that will be most difficult to play because they are in season,” Bitter said. “Unless things changed drastically and we can get them inside to start, volleyball is going to be really tough to have. Basketball still has some time for things to trend downwards to get into that red.”


However, there is thinking of moving the girls volleyball season the same way CIF has moved the boys volleyball season, which has seen its third move since the pandemic started. Traditionally, boys volleyball is played during the spring season. In the original plan from the State CIF office, boys volleyball was moved to coincide with the girls volleyball season in the fall. When the numbers came in and those sports couldn’t play, the boys volleyball season was moved to the next season and are hopeful to get in a season.


“Boys volleyball kids would be missing two years if we don’t have a season this year,” Bitter said. “That’s why the state moved them back into a second season, or spring season, sport to be able to try to get it in. They also did the same thing for girls volleyball and hope to move it back to play league. We can try to push that back to late April or May to get a season in if the numbers continue to go down.”


Bitter said the district is looking into renting SportCourt like Sanger High School did, but there are still issues with that.


“No. 1, what’s going to happen if it rains or we get a good wind,” Bitter said. “What happens on the early morning when it freezes? Do we cover it every night? How do we keep it secure and protected? Those are concerns. We’re trying to look into all possible ways to give our kids an opportunity.”


However, with the governor’s announcement, Bitter hopes that it will give a green light to more opportunities for MUSD athletes.


“Last Friday’s announcement by the governor opened the floodgates,” he said. “I can see things continuing down that path of getting more competitions and more sports opening up to go down the road to our new normal, whatever that will be. The keys are what we’ve always talked about. If you’re sick, stay home. Always wear your mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize our equipment. That has to be the key. If we play volleyball indoors, I can see our players having to wear masks all the time. Basketball is a little tougher to wear masks because of the exertion. Those are some of the sacrifice kids will have to make.”


In the meantime, Bitter remains positive and hopeful that MUSD athletes will get a chance to compete.


“There’s hope,” he said. “I’m not going to be the least bit surprised if we have some sports that don’t get to play. I think a majority of them will get some kind of shortened season. We have to try to remain positive and keep the kids positive. The kids are resilient and happy to be working out. Now, that incentive has been ratched up a little bit because they get the opportunity to participate. It’s beginning to seem real. They are getting excited.”

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