Coronavirus threat-related school closure to May 4 leads to end of regular spring sports season; fate of CIF playoffs to be determined April 3
Senior Andrew Park (center) pushes the ball past Crean Lutheran defenders during a 3-1 loss to the Saints. The Feb. 20 game was the first ever Sunny Hills boys volleyball game. Now, the inaugural Freeway League boys volleyball season will have to be postponed to next year. Photo taken by Accolade photographer Brianna Zafra

Upon Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] superintendent Scott Scambray’s decision to extend school closure until May 4, athletics officials confirmed Friday that the regular spring sports season is over.

Athletics director Jon Caffrey confirmed the news after Scambray’s announcement that “athletics … are canceled/postponed until further evaluation on May 1.”

Sunny Hills is among the six Freeway League teams in the district; the others are Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Sonora and Troy. 

“[All Freeway League teams] are out through May 1 [and] CIF-Southern Section [CIF-SS] says that the last regular-season games can be held May 2,” Caffrey said. “Mathematically, we are done.”

The announcement affects the following Sunny Hills spring sports teams: baseball, boys golf, softball, swim and dive, boys tennis, track and field and boys volleyball, which was in its inaugural year before it held what became its last game of the season March 12.

CIF-SS rules prohibit all spring sports except for boys golf from playing regular-season games after May 2, the same day that the suspension on sports will be lifted. The last regular-season match for boys golf can be held on May 9 but the last boys golf match is currently scheduled for April 30.

Unless CIF-SS changes its rules or makes an exception for schools affected by coronavirus-related school closures, Sunny Hills teams will likely not be able to participate in the CIF playoffs.

CIF State officials and section commissioners met March 17 to discuss whether playoffs will be held this year, but they postponed the decision to April 3.

Coaches reacted to the news with disappointment.

We have some athletes that have worked very hard all year to be in a position to dominate and now it looks like they will not be able to,” swim and dive coach Keith Nighswonger said. “I also miss our athletes, their families and our coaching staff. These are people that I see more often than my own family, so it really hurts.”

The move comes in the wake of Orange County health officer Dr. Nichole Quick’s March 17 order that banned all gatherings through the end of the month and Gov. Newsom’s March 17 prediction that many schools will be closed for the remainder of the year.

As of March 20, 10,442 U.S. cases of the coronavirus have been reported and 150 have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Originally believed to only affect older people or those with a preexisting health condition, the first high school student in California — a student at Palos Verdes High School — was reported to contract the virus on March 16.

“Although it is difficult, [suspending the season] is the right thing to do,” Caffrey said. “The district is making sure we are all safe and taking every necessary precaution.”

Caffrey had hoped that he could salvage a few events before the end of the year before the announcement came.

“We thought we could put some stuff together if we returned mid-April,” he said. “We all want to see our athletes compete but with 40 days off, I think the writing is on the wall.”

Coaches saw this move coming as more and more school districts across Southern California suspended their athletics programs.

“Initially, I thought we’d be able to resume school and continue the season in some compacity,” first-year track and field coach Jacob Holloway said. “As the days went on though, I realized there was a good chance the season would be canceled.”

Caffrey expressed sorrow on behalf of the seniors. 

“[Our seniors] were the beginning of a huge change for Sunny Hills [and] truly turned the corner in many of our programs,” he said. “I have so many great memories of their accomplishments and am disappointed [that] it ends this way.”

For the seniors, they found out the same way all students found out — through the FJUHSD announcement.

“Even though I had been told it was a possibility, I was still a little surprised but mostly sad because it’s my last track season, and we had just started competing,” track and field long jumper senior Katya Wang said. 

The announcement put a likely end to two new coaches’ first years on-campus — Holloway and softball coach Kenny Knighten.

“I got to [assistant] coach the cross country season in its entirety and that was amazing,” Holloway said. “I was looking forward to track and field this spring so I’ll be studying to get better as a coach [and prepare for] cross country this summer.”

The inaugural Freeway League season for the boys volleyball team will also have to be put off until next year.

Though it looks as the opportunity this year will not be happening, we also need to be grateful,” boys volleyball head coach Jack Adams said. “If our biggest woe is that we are stuck at home safe and healthy, having to wait until another time down the road to play volleyball, it could be much worse.”

It’s not quite the end of the story for outside hitter junior Joseph Pak, who founded the Volleyball Club two years ago and worked with the school administration to give the green light on the first boys volleyball team at Sunny Hills, but he still feels bad for the seniors.

“I’m glad I have another year [to play], but for the seniors that can’t play next year, it sucks even more,” Pak said. “[The situation] just doesn’t feel very good at all.”

With the suspension of the season also came the removal of hopes and dreams for playoffs.

“This year, we dropped down to Division 3 and I felt like we could go really far in the playoffs,” boys tennis doubles player sophomore Enoch Chung said. “If we move up a division next year, [this year] will be a missed opportunity.”

No decision has been made on whether or not this years’ records will be registered with an asterisk on their sides.

Seniors also left advice for underclassmen should a situation like this arise again. 

“Enjoy your time now, make the best out of it and try your best,” swimmer senior Evelyn McIlveen said. “The time goes by fast so take it in while you can.”

As for team banquets, coaches were unsure as to how they would proceed and are currently waiting for more updates from school administration before deciding whether they would hold their banquets in-person, over a video call service like Zoom or not holding one at all.

Caffrey is still holding out for the possibility that the coronavirus crisis dies down by the summer so student-athletes can prepare for fall sports — cross country, football, girls golf, girls tennis, girls volleyball and boys water polo.

“I am hopeful we can come back on May 1,” he said. “If so, then our fall sports should be fine.”

While this situation will not be resolved for at least another six weeks, Caffrey offered a final message for the seniors.

“I wish [them] the best as they move on to the next chapter of their lives,” the athletics director said. “I know they are prepared academically as well as athletically, and I can’t wait to hear about their [future] accomplishments. Lancers for life!”

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