SAN MATEO, CA – OCTOBER 11: Serra tight end/defensive end Christian Pedersen (87) and teammates celebrate after the high school football game between Archbishop Mitty and Serra at Serra High School on October 11, 2019 in San Mateo, CA. (Cody Glenn for Bay Area News Group)
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Q&A’s that Bay Area Preps HQ is doing with high school league commissioners throughout the region in advance of the scheduled start of practice for sports such as football, volleyball and water polo in December.
Winter’s fast approaching with little clarity on how the Bay Area’s high school sports landscape will look.
What needs to happen to get kids back outside playing team sports?
Will football games start in January, as administrators envisioned over the summer when they delayed fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic?
Every league is different. Every commissioner is dealing with their own set of issues.
Jolene Fugate, the commissioner of the powerful West Catholic Athletic League, needs more information from local health officials to craft guidelines that fall in line with the three counties that the WCAL’s nine private schools cover.
Fugate is optimistic that high school sports will return in some capacity this winter but knows it’ll be a challenge, given the counties’ objective to maintain strict protocols to quell the spread of the virus.
The commissioner spoke with Bay Area Preps HQ on Tuesday to address possible protocols, testing and what the return of sports might look like for her league’s schools — Bellarmine College Prep, Archbishop Mitty, Presentation, Archbishop Riordan, Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Francis, St. Ignatius, Serra and Valley Christian.
Here’s what she said:
What is the WCAL allowing teams and athletes to do now?
“As far as the league, our schools are all following county guidelines. It’s an individual school-by-school basis. The league covers three different counties, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara County. So, a long way to say that it’s different in each county what’s allowed. For example, can they have shared equipment or not? It depends on their county mandates.”
What are the health and safety protocols that teams in WCAL have to follow?
“Right now we’re kind of in a holding pattern. We’re waiting for protocols as announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and counties that will dictate the future of youth sports. Unfortunately, right now we’re in that waiting pattern. Some people say it’s going to come this week. Some people say next week. But once we have those, we’ll be able to set more league-wide guidelines.”
What needs to happen between now and December for teams in your league to start practice as scheduled?
“It’ll depend, county-to-county. Whatever the state guidelines that come, each county can be more restrictive or not, so based on that then we’ll get our athletic directors counsel together to discuss what the league would look like if given the ability to play and practice.”
How has it been dealing with families, and parents who want answers for when their kid can play again?
“We all want to see kids back out enjoying things that they love, whether that be athletics, art, drama, band. Obviously, our thing is athletics. We talk a lot about culture on our campuses to make clear that we’re all in this together and we all need to do our part to make this come together.”
Will testing be required and, if so, what kind of testing?
“We just don’t know at this point. If you look at how colleges are, I could anticipate it. Unfortunately, the difference between high school and colleges is resources. Colleges have the budgets and the ability to keep kids in pods that we just don’t at the high school level. Our kids go to school or do virtual school and then they’re at home. Whereas the colleges have their kids on campus and they can keep them together in pods with resources to do the testing. High schools, unfortunately, don’t have the resources at this point at this cost of testing.”
Is there a path to get access to more testing resources?
“It can all come down to schools. Our league is so spread out from South Bay to San Francisco. This is something we haven’t experienced before and we just don’t have a game plan right now. Initial guidelines that have come through from the National Federation of State High School Associations have not mandated any testing.”
Would regular testing be essential to getting sports back?
“Every school is different. You look within our league and section (Central Coast) at the disparity amongst our schools. I think the goal of any true athletic administrator right now is to give kids an opportunity and an outlet. So I would hate to have a guideline or a mandate that would preclude certain student-athletes in some section of our area not to be able to participate just because they couldn’t have the resources. That would be hard.
“I would hate for the bottom line to be: You can play because your school could afford testing. That’s not the high school model. High school is education-based athletics. It’s based on the whole student-athlete, not just competition. I could not imagine a scenario in which we would play high school sports based on resources.
“It’s not club. It’s not pay-to-play. It’s an extension of the classroom, which should be for everybody and not just schools that can afford it.”
Say there was testing and one of the student-athletes tested positive for the virus, what would need to happen?
“We would have to follow the protocols put in by NFHS, the state and section (CCS). Once we get that, we would decide at a league level how to go about cleaning and disinfecting between games, those kind of things. We will know more in two weeks.”
What would happen if some sports in your league are cleared to play and others are not?
“I think it goes back to giving kids opportunities. Think of the state. In some regions, kids might be able to play and in other regions, others won’t. There’s misfocus on the end result, which would be league, section, state championships and we really need to focus just on getting kids opportunities to be outside, to play, to compete. I could also see other sections being able to play and our section not. It’s going to be based on your area.”
Gut feeling, do you think there will be high school games in January?
“There’s a lot of hurdles we have to get through to have games in January. The biggest hurdle is working with our counties. There’s so many things with the county that come first. There’s a lot of things on the county’s plate that fall in front of high school athletics, so I understand why it hasn’t been a focal point. The biggest hurdle will be to get information that we can use. They’re working with our task force, we just don’t have guidelines.”
Do you anticipate the guidelines will dictate that certain sports can return, while others can’t?
“Yes. Stable groups (or pods), transportation and level of risk are factors. Wrestling and football are a lot different than cross country or golf or tennis. There are so many variables, and that’s why it comes back to the counties. They can OK us to play, but say no transportation is allowed. In the Bay Area, that may not be feasible. We have working moms and dads and it’s hard to ask them to leave their jobs when they typically rely on after-school transportation to get kids to events.”