Prep sports a big unknown due to virus

The coronavirus is crushing prep sports. Officials have been trying to create a playbook for the way students can resume school and sports, but as of now coaches and athletic directors are trying to navigate through contending regulations.

Incline Village’s Paloma Nolan-Bowers races down a slalom course last season. Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

In early January, decisions from state officials and school districts will determine how the next sports season will look for high schools in the basin.

At this time high school sports are at a standstill waiting for the next directives of the governor’s office for both California and Nevada. Clark County School District in southern Nevada even announced they will not be participating in the winter season sports.

In Nevada, where South Tahoe High School mostly competes, tournaments are prohibited and basketball, wrestling are both still on the governor’s prohibited list at this time, and even if they aren’t lifted from the prohibited sports list, the season ends Feb. 20 regardless.

While students can condition, they cannot practice if it involves any physical contact with another player. For sports like basketball, conditioning is difficult because practice indoors is not allowed (in California), and many of the outdoor courts are full of snow.

Donnie Nelson, assistant director from the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, says that they have been working with the governor’s office weekly regarding the prohibited list of sports which includes basketball, wrestling for the winter season and football in the spring. While they have been working with the governor’s office on a variety of topics related to high school sports, a top priority is showing that the sports deemed with a “high-risk” level can be played safely. Nelson says they have been providing information that outlines their plans in place based on other states who have had a successful return.

“We certainly understand we are in a pandemic and there are risks,” he said. “We are not trying to argue against that, we just want to show we can do it safely.”

Nelson says this is important because a majority of the schools with the NIAA only offer basketball and wrestling, meaning that almost 75% of their members might not be able to compete this season.

The winter sports season is on hold until the governor relaxes the mandate on sports regarded as full-contact and high-risk level sports.

“There are so many challenges at so many different levels,” said Nelson.

Even if high schools in Nevada will be allowed to compete, the question is if California will be able to compete against them.

South Tahoe, North Tahoe and Truckee high schools cannot compete in person until they are back in some form of in-person or hybrid learning model. The Lake Tahoe Unified School District and Tahoe Truckee Unified School District boards of trustees will determine the next step.

The only sport that has been given the green light to resume is skiing.

The Tahoe Basin Ski League’s first meet is scheduled for Jan. 27 and practice starts on Jan. 2.

Since state regulations superseded NIAA decisions, the ski league will only have four teams instead of seven because three of the schools have not yet moved to a form of in-person or hybrid learning and the counties which they are located are in California’s stay at home order.

“California has really buckled down on sports,” said Nelson.

He said they are also dealing with the complexities of the different mandates and regulations per school districts, counties and states.

“Athletics is about clear as mud right now,” said Thomas Reymer, Incline High School’s athletic director. “It has been frustrating.”

Reymer says that everything is currently on hold right now until they get more information. He says he’s been getting calls from students and parents and he doesn’t know what to say to them right now about the whole situation.

“This has been really tough on the kids,” he said and added that the emotional, social and mental impact has been difficult.

“We have been working with the El Dorado County Health Department to make sure to keep kids safe and so that we are prepared to play as soon as we are allowed to do so,” said Louis Franklin, South Tahoe High School athletic director and football coach.

Franklin said that in the summer, South Tahoe High conditioned in small group pods in an effort to keep the kids active, which he said was really successful.

“Every decision has been a challenge,” Franklin said.

He says he has been trying to look at past stuff he’s done to make sure he’s doing it in the safest way possible.

The soonest sports like volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf and cross country would be able to start for South Tahoe High is marked as Feb. 13-20, depending on what tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy the county is in.

“We are waiting for what the county is going to say,” Franklin said.

The season for football would begin Feb. 13, but Nelson says it’s unknown until the governor decides to remove football from the prohibited list.

In California, inter-team competitions are not allowed until Jan. 25, but return-to-competition date will be reassessed Jan. 4.

While dates are tentative and ever-changing at this moment, the spring season is slated to begin in April.

Franklin said, “We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope everyone follows the measures to keep our town safe so kids can get back to school and back to sports.”

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