High school football: Stagg spoils Tigers’ home opener

The Tokay High varsity team enters the field before the Tokay High varsity game opener at Hubbard field at Tokay High in Lodi Friday, Sept. 6, 2019.

Spring football isn’t just for startup professional leagues anymore. It’s a high school thing — for one year, anyway.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order on Friday for all schools to start with distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Interscholastic Federation is pushing the start of all sports back to late December at the earliest.

All sports will be crammed into two seasons, with one starting Dec. 28 and the other starting in March 2021 for the Sac-Joaquin Section. The first season will include cross country and water polo with a Dec. 28 start, boys and girls volleyball with a Dec. 29 start, and football with a Jan. 8 start. The second season will have boys and girls soccer start on March 1, badminton, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls wrestling and competitive cheer start on March 8, boys and girls basketball start on March 9, swimming, baseball and softball start on March 22, and boys and girls golf, track and field and lacrosse start on March 29.

“I’m only semi-joking here when I say a full year off could kill the Sac-Joaquin Section,” said Sac-Joaquin Section Assistant Commissioner Will DeBoard in Monday’s conference call with reporters from around the section. “We’ll do everything humanly possible to have sports this year. As soon as there is any sort of window, we’re going to start doing stuff.”

Monday’s announcement had athletic directors in Lodi getting down to work, talking with coaches and working out schedules.

“I think my largest concern is multi-sport athletes,” said Lodi High AD Robert Winterhalter. “They normally have their sports separated into three different seasons, and now they might have to choose. Even like a football/basketball kind of guy. Football is going to go to March 20, and that’s just the regular season, not playoffs, and basketball’s first scrimmage is March 9. So not even talking about playoffs, and you’re missing a third of the basketball season.”

There will be things to work out as far as facilities and transportation. Tokay’s Michael Holst will be looking at boys and girls volleyball season overlapping with boys and girls basketball, plus badminton and wrestling, with one gym to work with. Winterhalter will have three gyms to play with at Lodi, but will have to work out the football schedule at the Grape Bowl with the city, since it will now conflict with club soccer.

“We’re in unprecedented times. Our job is to take that and make it work,” Holst said. “...Field space, transportation space, it’s going be a difficult juggling act. This all assumes that we’re good in December, which we don’t know now.”

With the end of the second season pushing into late June, the CIF has suspended its rule barring student-athletes from playing for a club team in the same sport during the same season.

Other changes include one less week for section playoffs, and only one week total allotted for state playoffs.

“Basketball is currently three weeks, so basketball in its current state is not happening,” DeBoard said about the state playoffs. “For football, it’s one week, so it would probably be bowl games.”

DeBoard said the CIF looked at what other states are doing, as well as California’s junior college association, which pushed it sports past December as well, while making its decision.

“Some states like New Mexico have chosen to do what California has done. Other states have said they’re starting on time if they can, and if they can’t, they’ll push it back two weeks,” DeBoard said. “We, the CIF, felt that was putting too much pressure on our athletic directors. We felt like January gave our athletic directors the best chance to put a schedule together that actually could be followed.”

Holst said he’s already gotten questions from players about playing multiple sports, and how things will work. Winterhalter spent most of Monday communicating with coaches and laying the groundwork for the changes.

“I think there will be initial disappointment that we’ll start the year without any games,” Winterhalter said. “But the fact that they do have a calendar and they can start circling dates, it does give them a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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