The Humboldt Del Norte League (HDNL) successfully petitioned the North Coast Section (NCS) on Oct. 2 to allow our HDNL schools to have our own model for athletics this year. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, most California high schools are attempting a two-season model for sports, where the HDNL will follow the more traditional three sport seasons — with many changes. Here are some breakdowns.
According to the organization that mandates high school sport guidelines for most states, including California, there are three levels of COVID-19 risk in high school sports. For our purposes locally:
High-Risk sports are football, wrestling and competitive cheer.
Moderate-risk sports are basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.
Low-risk sports include golf, cross country running and some track and field events.
The levels of risk are based on such things as the sharing of balls, sharing and cleaning of equipment and, of course, physical contact. Each team and sport must pass through three phases to compete as cleared by the county health officer. For instance, in basketball, practice begins with each athlete having their own ball in small pods, no more than 10 athletes at a time at the facility and no physical contact before moving to Level 2. A low-risk sport might begin at Level 3.
The three seasons of sport the HDNL cleared with the NCS include:
Season 1, beginning Dec. 14 for eight weeks, including boys and girls basketball and boys and girls cross country.
Season 2, beginning Feb. 8 for nine weeks, including football, boys and girls soccer, and girls volleyball.
Season 3, beginning April 12 for eight weeks, including baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls golf, and boys and girls wrestling.
Here are some guidelines the HDNL has put in place:
If a season starts and stops, it will not start again.
There will be no travel outside the county, including sectional competition, in seasons 1 and 2. All games will be interleague and league championships will then conclude the season since seasons 1 and 2 are not in sync with the NCS timeline.
Season 3 teams and athletes can travel to sectional competition if qualified, and the county public health office allows travel.
Wrestling will follow the NCS model in season 3 and wrestlers can attend NCS events as it will be following the same schedule, but with a later practice start time than other sectional schools.
Here are some concerns and hang-ups:
Which schools will participate locally? Each school will determine independently what sports to participate in. The Eureka High School Board of Trustees voted Oct. 8 to participate in athletics but continue classes remotely. If Eureka High School and others — possibly Arcata and McKinleyville — also vote for starting athletics with remote education, many may question why other programs, such as agriculture and band, are not granted exceptions, too. Only four schools' students are currently attending in person: Fortuna High School, Ferndale High School, St. Bernard's Academy and Del Norte High School.
Many (if not all) counties in the North Coast Section are in much worse shape than we are concerning COVID-19 and shelter-in-place restrictions. Humboldt County has recently moved to the yellow "minimal" tier, the least restrictive zone, whereas some East Bay counties are at the highest levels of restriction, purple and red. It is hard to imagine the NCS pulling off a sectional championship series until the COVID crisis is gone. High school sports are not high on the agenda for some of these counties. Ethnic disparities in terms of contraction and impact of the illness makes advancement to less restrictive codes even harder for areas with larger Black and Latinx populations.
Face masks will have to be mandated to a certain degree. Despite consensus among county public health departments, there is no agreement among participants and community members concerning how safe masks are to wear during exercise, and there is certainly no agreement about when and where to wear masks in athletics.
Schools are always responsible for monitoring themselves concerning violations. I can foresee some major disagreements between schools as guidelines and rules are interpreted differently.
The nature of competitive sports is to be closer than 6 feet apart. Even in a low risk sport like cross country, a runner needs to be within 6 feet to pass another.
High school sports thrive on fans — there is no policy for allowing fans in any of the models.
The COVID-19 crisis is far from being over.
There are so many questions and concerns. We want our athletes to compete and have a chance to show themselves to fans, family and, for some athletes, future colleges. This is a heartbreaking time for everyone, including the fans of local high school sports. I feel we have a shot this year to have some version of local high school sports. Even so, it is not going to be the same.
Rod Kausen (he/him) is a retired teacher and coach.