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MUSD athletes cleared to practice

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Madera Coyote cross country runners get in a warm-up jog before the team’s practice Thursday at Town and Country Park. Madera Unified School District announced this week that teams can start practicing, but also must adhere to state and county guidelines, which include no more than 15 athletes at a time for practice, wearing masks by the coaches and practicing social distancing, when possible.


With the blessing of the Madera Unified School District’s leadership team and the Madera County Department of Public Health, athletic teams can commence practicing immediately.

Some teams started the day they got the okay and can be seen running around Madera or in their facilities while others will wait to make sure their athletes clear their physicals and other administrative processes.

“Everybody is good to go,” said Marty Bitter, MUSD Director of Athletics. “There was a lot of discussion. I thought it was best that all teams be able to work out, not just the purple tier that is allowed to play. There was a lot of reasons I wanted to play. I got a lot of support from (MUSD Superintendent) Todd Lile, (MUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services) Sheryl Sisil, (MUSD Deputy Superintendent) Sandon Schwartz, and eventually the Madera County Public Health Department. There’s a lot of stuff going on, especially with COVID. We have kids sitting at home dealing with a variety of other things. That was kind of the big push. Everybody is able to go back out.”

Teams are able to practice, but in pods or groups limited to 15 players each. That number allows most teams to practice together.

“Our pods, according to the California Department of Public Health Guidelines, are limited to 15 players,” Bitter said. “We call the pods cohorts. We increased it to 15 from 10. These follow the CDPH guidelines.”

Bitter hopes to increase the number of people in a pod to 20 in the near future.

“Some teams can practice as a whole like volleyball and basketball,” he said. “The goal is that if we start this and adhere to the protocol is to increase the pod sizes to 20. That’s in the next few weeks, if the stars align. The community health numbers need to continue to lower. I would like to get football and soccer up to 20 so they can have more a team workout.”

In addition to increasing the number of players in a pod, sharing of equipment is also allowed. However, Bitter told his coaches to do their best to ease their way back into game-shape.

“Sharing of equipment means the equipment needs to be wiped down every 20-30 minutes. Everything needs to be cleaned after every practices,” Bitter said. “Our goal is to spend three-to-five days in all of our programs for an hour-to hour and 15 minutes to get acclimated. Our kids have sat on the shelf for some time. We want them to ease themselves back into it. We are going to do some conditioning to start.”

Another thing some athletes have to consider is what sport they want to play. There are some athletes who play multiple sports. However, if their sports are playing at the same time, that athlete can only play in one sport during that time.

“The CDPH has a guideline that an athlete can’t participate in more than one cohort,” Bitter said. “For example, they can only play one sport at a time. There’s hope that the guideline will change.”

In addition, coaches must be masked up at all times and athletes need to wear a mask when not practicing.

“Coaches have to be 100 percent masked,” Bitter said. “The student-athletes are masked unless they are in an strenuous drill. If they are on the sideline, they have to be masked.”

Competitions can begin as early as Feb. 15, however, Bitter realistically thinks MUSD teams will be ready to go by March 1.

“I want to caution the coaches,” he said. “Competitions can start Feb. 15. I have told all of the athletic directors to cool their jets. This is the first day we are able to work out. Right now, our goal is to get to competition. But, we have to do a good job for two or three weeks of seeing if we can do this and avoid or extremely limit the spread.”

Bitter says he knows of competitions, but he also says that those school districts have not stopped practicing like MUSD athletes had to at the end of November.

“There is a competition on Feb. 17,” he said. “Sanger is going to be competing against some of the TRAC schools. That school and those school districts haven’t shut down. They have been working out all the time. Their kids are at a different point. Us and Fresno Unified have to ease our way into this.”

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is getting brighter and brighter.

“Right now, the goal is to give the kids competition,” he said “There are no high school sanctioned tournaments of any sports allowed. However, I can see a baseball or softball tournament. It’s not like volleyball or basketball where you have two games in one gym. You can have a tournament at two or three sites.”

Contests are allowed throughout the state, however local county guidelines overrule the state guidelines and Madera County is one of the more infected counties in the state.

“According to CDPH and CIF, contests are allowed under the guidelines,” he said. “One of the guidelines is you can only play bordering counties and they have to be in the same colored tier. There will be schools that will do that. We are just not at that point, yet.”

However, Bitter is excited about getting the athletes out to practice and begin preparing for competition.

“My goal in my mind is somewhere around March 1,” he said. “If we got anything before that, it would be a huge bonus. I think March 1 is a good goal. Not only safety from the Coronavirus, but the safety of the kids. They haven’t competed in almost a year. They’ve been sitting around since before Thanksgiving, so that’s more than two months. It takes two or three weeks to get back to play.

“We’re super excited to get the green light and we’re doing it with extreme caution. It has to get the blessing from the leadership. Then, it has to be endorsed by the county public health department.”

Bitter says there is more good news down the pipeline, but he says people have to wait for that.

“In the next week or so, there will be more positive news coming,” he said.


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