The Antelope Valley Union High School District has plans to start cross country competition on March 6, making it the first Golden League sport to return since athletics were suspended in early March 2020.
Desert Christian and Lancaster Baptist held a cross country meet at the Lancaster National Soccer Center on Thursday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced youth sports competitions can resume next week in parts of California and could be back for a vast majority of the state by the end of March under a plan announced Friday by public health officials that clears the way for abbreviated spring versions of high school football, field hockey, gymnastics and water polo.
Nearly all interscholastic, club and community league sports in California have been on hold since the pandemic began in March. The CIF moved most fall sports to the spring in the hopes that students could salvage some of their season.
The new rules apply to all outdoor youth and adult recreational sports, including schools and community-sponsored leagues. The rules do not apply to collegiate or professional sports that already are being played under a separate set of rules or “community events” like marathons and other endurance races. And they also don’t apply to indoor sports like basketball and volleyball.
The new rules impose lots of limitations, including banning indoor activities like team dinners and film study and prohibiting athletes from sharing equipment. Coaches and players not in games must wear masks, and fans should be limited to immediate family members.
Most burdensome of all, the rules require weekly virus testing for all coaches and athletes 13 and older in close-contact sports including football, rugby and soccer if they are played in counties with a per capita rate above 7 cases.
Newsom said the state would pay for those tests, so as not to prohibit some less wealthy schools from participating. But he did not provide more details other than to say “we will absorb the cost.”
Previous state standards only permitted certain sports to resume once a county advanced out of the state’s most restrictive of four tiers of virus regulations.
Under the new rules, a county’s overall tier designation doesn’t matter. The one metric being used for sports competitions is per capita cases. All outdoor sports are allowed — with safety protocols — once a county reaches a level of 14 cases or lower for every 100,000 people.
There are 27 counties that meet that standard and can resume competitions as soon as next Friday, Feb. 26. They are virtually all in Northern California.
Another 16 counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Fresno, will likely meet the standard within a few weeks.
Golden League coaches and officials had to formulate a plan for what the cross country meets would look like, but they were going to be much smaller than typical meets.
The Golden League will have four cross country dual meets on March 6, all starting at 10 a.m. at the host schools. It is the first of three meets each school will complete in, on consecutive Saturday mornings.
The meets will be limited to one pod of 14 on the track at a time.
The Quartz Hill High cross country team held its first practice on Feb. 8
“The idea is the meets will be local, probably dual meets,” Quartz Hill cross country coach Matt Bierowicz said on Feb. 9. “Small, on campuses, so not at Pelona Vista Park, which is where we’d typically race. Not a lot of traveling, because of travel restrictions. So it’s going to be limited, but it will still be fun. I don’t know if Golden League championships will be awarded or not, but we’ll see what happens.”
Cross country was originally scheduled to start in December, according to a tentative schedule the CIF-Southern Section drew up in July.
But like many plans during the pandemic, it didn’t last.
“Right now, we’re happy to be training again together,” Bierowicz said. “A little bit of normalcy. They had a good time yesterday. We’re kind of going a day at a time at this point. We’ve been shut down so many times, so it’s hard to get your hopes up, but I think they were just happy to be training, because they are friends with each other, those girls on the team.”
Quartz Hill senior Grace Ritchie, who recently signed a Letter of Intent to run at Mississippi State, and will compete in both cross country and track.
“We’re kind of just training right now and hoping we do and seeing if we have a track season too,” Ritchie said. “Hoping we’ll at least get some races in my senior year to finish it out.”
Grace competed in one track meet her junior year before high school athletics were shut down.
“It’s been very difficult not having a consistent practice with coaches and my teammates,” Ritchie said. “We always try to train together when we couldn’t train with coach. The motivation is sometimes difficult, but when you have your teammates to deal with, it’s better to do it.”
Ritchie was the Golden League champion in the mile and two mile her sophomore year.
The track and field season is scheduled to start not long after cross country finishes.
“Hopefully more options for track just because of by then with the vaccine and other things opening up, maybe we’ll have more options. Still kind of in the planning stages,” Bierowicz said.
Bierowicz hopes bigger cross country races will be possible, especially traditional ones outside the Antelope Valley.
“We’d like to do invitationals, which would be outsides the Valley, because those are the opportunities where they can run faster, they have better competition,” Bierowicz said. “We’re limited here, there’s not as many. You go to those invitationals where the best athletes all come together and you run faster. That’s what we want, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen yet.”
While cross country is beginning, other high school sports are less certain, especially ones played indoors and others that include close contact, like football.
“At this point, honestly, personally I would like to get out there and get some games in for these seniors,” Quartz Hill football coach James Vondra said at the Feb. 9 college signing of one of his players. “But at the same time, we haven’t been in the weight room since last March. Football is one of those sports, when you’re talking about safety, I don’t think we’re physically ready to play. We really have to be able start right now and be in the weight room for a good month.
“CIF has an April 17 end date for last year’s fall season so it doesn’t affect next year’s season. I just don’t see it happening. I think anything now, unless we were to open up by Feb. 22, that’s what I’m hoping for. If everything opens up quickly. Feb. 22 I can get the guys out there with no limits, get in the weight room, I think we can prepare for something for March and April.”
Vondra said delays would affect the schedule for the next season, in the fall.
“The longer we wait, the less inclined I am as a coach to get us going for any kind of saving this season, just because of safety,” Vondra said. “My whole thing, I don’t want to save now and jeopardize the future. So the other thing that is in the back of my mind is that if you have any injuries. In a March game if you have a broken collarbone, that will affect their fall season. They could be out the whole season because of that. There’s really a lot of evaluation that needs to happen for us to safely get a season together. If we’re not out there by Feb. 22, with no limits on pods, in the weight room, getting ready, I think we’re just conditioning. I think we’re just getting the guys ready for next year.
“The more we wait, the closer we get to that April 17 date, it’s like we’re trying to force, I don’t want to force a season. I feel bad for those seniors that have lost so much, but with football, we don’t just throw a bunch of kids together and ‘OK, let’s have a game.’ We would have already been lifting weights in January for next year, so we’re already behind for next year.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report