The Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League on Wednesday took a big step forward in the anticipated return of high school sports, announcing its 2021 sports seasons for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. The board of managers took it a step further with the addition of seven schools in Santa Cruz County, including five of them in Watsonville.
League commissioner Bob Kittle issued a press release on Jan. 20 stating that Watsonville, Pajaro Valley, Monte Vista Christian and St. Francis high schools along with Ceiba College Preparatory Academy will compete in the condensed 2021 sports season, which has been delayed several times because of the pandemic. Pacific Collegiate School and Kirby Prep were also invited to join the league in order to create Santa Cruz County-only schedules.
Kittle said in the press release that “all SCCAL contests are subject to the health and safety guidelines and/or mandates of the State of California and the County of Santa Cruz. The California Department of Public Health has designated which youth sports may compete depending upon a particular county’s health status using the colored tier system.”
The league created three sports seasons with Season 1 scheduled to begin Feb. 1. Competition can begin as early as Feb. 15 and end on March 26. The lone sport offered in the first season is boys and girls cross country, one of the few sports allowed under the most restrictive purple tier.
Other sports in the purple tier include girls golf, swimming and diving, girls tennis and track and field, which will be offered in Season 2. The second season is scheduled to begin March 1, with competition starting March 13 and ending April 23.
Boys and girls volleyball along with football are also offered in Season 2, but those programs are under the orange tier, which means the county will need to jump two levels before kids can compete in those sports.
The third season, which is scheduled to begin April 5, is loaded with sports such boys tennis, boys golf, boys and girls lacrosse, baseball, softball, boys and girls water polo, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball and wrestling.
Competition for those nine sports will start as early as April 19 and ends May 28. But most programs in that season fall under the red (baseball, softball, girls lacrosse, outdoor cheerleading) orange (boys lacrosse, soccer, water polo) or yellow (indoor cheerleading, basketball and wrestling) tiers.
Kittle said that while some sports are restricted from competing, the CDPH still allows for all sports programs to practice in the purple tier.
Pajaro Valley High School Athletic Director Joe Manfre said that a vote by the Pacific Coast Athletic League Board of Managers allowed them to move to another league just for this year. That 34-team league decided to suspend its league schedules for this season to give schools “maximum flexibility to provide their students with sports experiences when and as the current restrictions change and their local situations allow.”
“The driving force behind the board’s decision was to provide each school the greatest opportunity to practice and compete as each county’s status and state health rules allow,” PCAL Commissioner Tim McCarthy said in a press release. “With PCAL spanning four counties, and with the real possibility that some counties will slip into less restrictive Covid tiers before others, the board concluded that it was more important that individual schools have the ability to react quickly as conditions allow, rather than be tied to a league schedule that might involve schools from more restrictive counties.”
Manfre said they have no intention of joining the SCCAL at the end of the year and will be going back to the PCAL next year.
A majority of the sports programs are still in the conditioning stage with cohorts of 14 student-athletes to a coach. Manfre believes that playing within the county is the best opportunity that they’re going to have to play sports because they don’t know what neighboring counties will look like a month or two from now.
“I think our best bet for this year to have some sort of competition is to play in the county,” he said.
MVC headmaster Mitch Salerno also agrees that playing within the county gives sports teams their best opportunity to resume play, especially given the recent surge in Covid-19 cases. They had no intention of moving to the SCCAL, but they jumped on the opportunity when they were invited.
“None of us wanted to leave the PCAL but the PCAL is in four counties and we all thought the best chance was for us to stay in Santa Cruz County,” he said.
Salerno, who is the president of the PCAL board managers, has been working with the conference to find ways when it becomes right for the students to be able to play. He added that county play is going to be more difficult and leagues are doing the best they can to give kids an opportunity to play.
“As it looks now, it’s still unlikely and there’s still a lot that has to be done before kids can play,” he said. “This is just a step to try to make it possible.”