With CIF State officially canceling spring playoffs because of coronavirus-related school closures, what are implications for fall sports?

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Tight end and defensive lineman sophomore Ethan Johnson (center) celebrates following the team's championship game victory over Santa Barbara at San Marcos High School Stadium on Nov. 30. After the spring sports cancellation, football may not have its chance to defend the fourth CIF-Southern Section title in school history. Photo taken by Accolade photographer Paul Yasutake

Andrew Ngo

After CIF State postponed a March 17 decision to cancel the spring sports playoffs, the organization’s executive director Ron Nocetti made an April 3 announcement that all spring playoff events would be canceled, effectively ending the spring sports season for all high school athletes in California. 

“Based on recent statements by Governor Newsom and State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond… [CIF] does not see an avenue for spring sports to continue,” Nocetti said in a press release. “We understand this is disappointing for everyone involved in education-based athletics.”

Newsom made a March 17 prediction that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, and Thurmond recommended all schools to continue distance learning on March 31.

For Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] schools, however, the decision to cancel spring sports had already been made. 

On March 20, FJUHSD superintendent Scott Scambray announced that schools would remain closed through May 1, and athletics director Jon Caffrey confirmed that all Freeway League spring sports’ regular seasons were over. On April 2, Scambray notified the district that all FJUHSD schools will stay closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. 

According to the Orange County Health Care Agency, 1,277 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Orange County with 35 of those being in Fullerton as of April 12.

Caffrey said he and other area athletics directors had planned for adjusted seasons should school return by mid-April, but all chances of that happening were removed after Scambray’s May 1 announcement. 

“We had planned to put some sort of event together to give us a chance to send our seniors off,” Caffrey said of end-of-season tournaments for the six Freeway League teams. “But obviously that won’t be happening.”

The motion also definitively ends the inaugural boys volleyball season. The group of boys were 5-6 on the season with Freeway League matches about to start; the Lancers also had the most wins and best win percentage among Freeway League teams.

“While cut short, I really enjoyed my volleyball season,” said right side hitter senior Cael Cosby, one of five on the 12-man squad who will be unable to return next year. “Obviously, we were weak in many ways, but [the team] has potential to do well in the future and create a strong Sunny Hills volleyball program.”

Adams emphasized the notion that the players’ volleyball careers, despite the sports hiatus, is not over.

“I tell my players [that] you have the rest of your life to continue with open gyms and beach volleyball with friends,” said volleyball head coach Jack Adams, whose team collected wins over Division 1/2 teams Capistrano Valley and Esperanza. “Some will miss out on the high school match experience with crowds of peers, but what you will all learn is that life after high school can be so much greater — [it’s] just a matter of what choices you make.”

While spring sport athletes will not receive much closure from the decision, CIF and district officials have moved forward to planning for the fall sports season. 

“Our staff and I are already working on potential scenarios for the start of fall sports,” CIF-Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigood wrote in an April 8 memo to principals and athletics directors. “In the fall, we will await the date schools reopen and adjust calendars appropriately for when school sports can safely begin.”

Possibilities for the fall sports season include starting at their previously expected start times — as early as Aug. 15 for girls volleyball as outlined in the 2020-2021 CIF-SS Sports Calendar — or shortening the season.

“Based on the legal side of things, I can see CIF only having league schedules [for a] shortened season,” Caffrey said. “I am hopeful that if this continues, CIF will make needed adjustments so players can return to the court or field at the right time.”

The last time when CIF-SS seasons were altered was during World War II when no official baseball or football playoffs were held, according to the CIF-SS record books. However, cross country and track and field playoffs took place.

A closer match to the current coronavirus pandemic would be the 1918-1919 season during the height of what became known as the Spanish Flu. 

In the 1918 fall season, the football playoff semifinals were disrupted when the California Board of Education temporarily banned all high school athletic activities until a physician sent out to each school deemed it to be safe to resume. 

“This is expected to be more or less a formality, and City League games will resume in the near future,” according to a Dec. 10, 1918, Los Angeles Times article.

In the first game after the ban was lifted, Fullerton — the school that’s just a short drive away from Sunny Hills — defeated Santa Monica 60-0. The Indians would go on to beat Coronado 18-0 in the March 8, 1919, final that would be the latest for a fall sports championship in the history of CIF playoffs.

“This game marks the close of the longest football season ever staged in Southern California prep circles [with] the championships always having been decided by Christmas time,” wrote a San Diego Union-Tribute reporter after the championship game.

Fullerton’s current football head coach, Richard Salazar, reflected on the two pandemics.

“I think it is a little eerie that close to 100 years ago another pandemic hit [here],” Salazar said. “I do not think we would reschedule like they did before, [but] then again, I’m interested to see when their seasons will be played because there are too many moving parts like other sports, scheduling and multi-sport athletes.”

According to the CIF-SS record books basketball playoffs would not be held that year, but playoffs for baseball and track and field — both spring sports — continued normally. Fullerton also won the 1919 baseball title. 

Sunny Hills football head coach Peter Karavedas said it’s too early to predict what will happen with the fall sports season. 

“It’s purely speculative, and nobody really knows what will happen,” Karavedas said. “We’re a long ways off from making a decision.”

For the coach and his 2019 CIF-SS championship squad, losing the chance to defend a CIF-SS title will sting more.

“If we did lose a season, we would obviously be devastated, especially with the great group we have coming back,” he said. “But that’s four, five months away, and I don’t want to scare anyone.”

Water polo player junior Jacob Brooks agreed.

“It would be a real bummer to miss my senior season,” Brooks said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of having fall sports in the spring season, either [because] we already have offseason water polo practice during swim season.”

Regardless of any potential outcome, Caffrey emphasized the importance of combatting the pandemic at hand by keeping social distancing expectations, which according to state and federal health officials would flatten the COVID-19 infection curve.

“I am hopeful that we will get everything under control, and we can resume sports when we all feel comfortable,” the athletics director said. “But in the bigger picture, that is far down the line, and our first priority is staying safe and healthy right now.”