Sep. 23—High school competition in the Yuba-Sutter-Colusa region surpassed the month mark on Sept. 20.
While most area districts are undergoing a complete fall schedule, including girls volleyball on many campuses for the first time since 2019, COVID-19 cases have not eluded the area.
In fact, in a little over a month, there have been 10 mid-valley schools, and Gridley, that have had games canceled or rescheduled due to COVID-19. Marysville volleyball had a game canceled last week when the visiting coach essentially walked out of the gymnasium due to the lack of masks being worn by fans, players and personnel.
Guidance, courtesy of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), was updated two days after the volleyball cancellation, saying that everyone inside a gymnasium must be masked up at all indoor sporting events until further notice.
"From this point forward, our indoor athletes will be wearing face masks," Marysville Athletic Director David Chiono said in a published Appeal report last week. "We are suggesting to our supporters to wear masks. At any time a team may say they do not feel safe if the fans are not wearing masks."
Marysville girl's volleyball head coach Annie Wooten, who led her team back on the court on Sept. 21 to begin league play against Colfax, said the mask mandate needs to be followed the rest of the way in order to have a season.
"It's different because they all say, 'My mask is soggy (and) distracting.' They want to fidget with it," Wooten said. "They're going to get used to it (because) if you want to play, we have to comply with the masks so we can have our season."
Marysville is hardly the only school dealing with issues related to COVID-19. Yuba City dealt with COVID issues in the offseason and was one of a number of schools to pause football activity for a week.
The Honkers are now testing athletes in the program regularly in hopes to persevere through the latest surge in schools.
"We are testing around 130 athletes each week," Yuba City Athletic Director Joel Seaman said in a statement.
The tests, which include six teams, are administered twice on Monday and on Tuesday afternoons, Seaman said.
If a positive test is unveiled, then the process of contact tracing begins — which Seaman said can be long and arduous.
"Our poor (administration) has been doing a lot of this with students in the classroom," he said. "It's complicated due to vaccinated versus unvaccinated, symptoms versus no symptoms."
Live Oak, another school that has dealt with COVID issues and cancellations, said contact tracing comes down to identifying the specific athletes who have tested positive in a given week. Currently, the school is testing approximately 125 athletes and staff in football, cheerleading and volleyball at all levels, according to Live Oak Athletic Director Mike Owen.
"If we cannot safely determine specific athletes when it comes to contact tracing, then the entire team is shut down for 10 days," Owen said. "This is what happened with football during our scheduled game against Williams. If we can contact trace, then those specific athletes quarantine and the team continues to practice and compete."
Owen said the school has been successful in catching a few athletes through contact tracing who have tested positive for COVID.
Live Oak, like many mid-valley schools, is also following state guidelines when it comes to masks at events.
"Live Oak knows what the CDPH put out on Sept. 1 and we are following those guidelines," Owen said. "Masks are required for all indoor activities and includes athletes on the court as well as the bench and fans (in the stands)."
Owen said the goal from the administration is to safely continue with athletic activity in 2021-22 given the state of COVID-19 in the area.
He added that there has been little discussion about a premature end to high school sports.
"This is the last thing we want to happen," Owen said. "Many of our athletes didn't get to compete in their sport last year, so we want to create the best opportunity possible given the current situation. We will discuss any closures to sports as new information comes up."
Owen said last year when the tier system was active in California, "purple" tiered sports were permitted to continue as COVID cases were on the rise.
One possible alternative, Owen said, is athletes shift their focus "to a sport like track, tennis, cross country or other purple (tier) sports."
Lindhurst's testing schedule
Lindhurst is an example of a school that has maintained an optional COVID-19 testing schedule.
Despite the surge in cases that forced Lindhurst to cancel its football game last week, administration said testing remains optional for students.
"Currently testing is available on campus for all students and staff, but is optional for athletes," Lindhurst Athletic Director Bob Jensen said. "We are not testing teams at this time."
Jensen said the testing mandate may resume at some point this academic school year.
"We are awaiting further guidance from district administration," he said.
The optional COVID-19 testing schedule, he said, is conducted twice a week near the gymnasium under the direction of a third party contracted with Marysville Joint Unified School District.
"Our administration is contact tracing for all positive cases within our school," Jensen said.
Local coach weighs in on state of high school athletics
Sutter Union High School varsity baseball coach Stewart Peterson was one of the first to deal with the extreme day-to-day changes that come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peterson's season, like many others across the state, was cut short in 2020 after only five games due to the COVID shutdown.
Since then, things have been different for his athletes and many others. Even when high school baseball resumed at Sutter for a full season (without playoffs) in 2021, Peterson said it was a different type of experience.
"Things are different," he said. "On a day-to-day basis you have to constantly remind yourself as a coach that you don't know what battles they are fighting on their own. Kids are incredibly resilient and all the things they have been through will make them stronger and more prepared for their future when the pandemic is over."
Peterson said his relationship with his athletes has improved over the last couple years.
"If there is a silver lining with COVID, I feel like the relationships our coaches have with our players over the last 18 months has gotten stronger," he said. "Our players don't take the daily grind for granted like they used to and are genuinely appreciative of the impact sports has on their lives."
He said despite the uptick in cases in schools, it is important that athletics continue at the prep level, adding that the pandemic alternative needs to not be the new normal moving forward.
"Kids need sports as an outlet and as a vehicle to developing better life skills," Peterson said. "With so many of our student-athletes being stuck at home or on distance learning in front of a screen this past year, I'm afraid some athletes will get too comfortable with this way of life and give up on extracurricular activities altogether."