Quick Take:

PREP SPORTS’ RETURN: The games finally have begun going on — but for now, just a few. Whether contact sports like football, wrestling, water polo and basketball happen will depend on just how quickly the virus decrease continues or whether there is a revision from the state.

High school sports was a bona fide real thing once again Thursday afternoon, as sanctioned competition occurred for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown last March.


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From Felton to Santa Cruz to Soquel to Watsonville, boys’ and girls’ cross country runners took their marks with masked faces and probably more nerves than usual, representing the first wave of prep athletes to get back a small piece of their sporting identities.

Did they represent hope for athletes who play contact sports and need Santa Cruz County to move not just into the red tier, but into the orange or yellow to resume play?

The Santa Cruz and Soquel High cross country teams get back to action.
The Santa Cruz and Soquel High cross country teams get back to action. Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

“There’s no good way to explain it to our kids . . . [that] it will sort of take a Hail Mary from the governor for there to be a football season,” said Santa Cruz High coach Jesse Trumbull.

There’s talk that Gov. Gavin Newsom could release new youth sports guidelines by Friday that give football and boys’ and girls’ volleyball (currently required to have the county in orange tier) a chance to start in March.

Cross country is the only sport included in the first of three truncated mini-seasons that local sports officials have mapped out. The next one will include girls’ golf, girls’ tennis, swimming and track and field — all outdoor sports that can be played while still in the purple tier.

Football and volleyball would not be cleared to start practicing by March 1 and playing games by March 13 as it stands now. If current trends continue, Santa Cruz County could be back in the red within 3 to 5 weeks, but orange levels would take longer.

Those in the final mini-season that begins April 5 that should be OK to play: boys’ golf, boys’ tennis (purple tier). Those that will be in good shape if the county continues its downward virus trend and sits solidly in the red: baseball, softball, girls’ lacrosse.

Health officials say a jump in COVID-19 youth sports cases have prevented a move to the yellow tier.
Health officials say a jump in COVID-19 youth sports cases have prevented a move to the yellow tier. Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

The contact sports that would need the county to have advanced to orange by April 5, which might be difficult but not impossible: boys’ and girls’ water polo, boys’ and girls’ soccer and boys’ lacrosse.

The longest of odds are up against boys’ and girls’ basketball and wrestling, which are deemed the most susceptible to virus transmission and will require the county to be in the yellow tier.

Whatever happens, much like the rest of pandemic living, these won’t be your normal sports seasons. And concerns about injuries due to the odd timing and lack of advance practice for these seasons are very real.

Trumbull, whose Cardinals shocked many by getting to the Northern California championships in December 2019 — the last month football was played in California — feels lucky to have only four seniors on the roster.

That way it’s mainly the kids who might want to go try to get a track season in, rather than keep their dream of a four-game football season alive.

“Four games is a heck of a lot better than no games,” he said. “Our kids have been excited about it, pretty much keeping up that same attitude. Anything we can get we’re going to take. But the longer it drags on, the enthusiasm does kind of wane.”

When Monte Vista Christian football coach JB Williams finally got his players back together for small training cohorts in the fall, it took less than a second to figure out how much they’d missed it. There was a storm approaching that November day and as soon as Williams had outlined all the COVID precautions the team would be taking, the skies opened up with a downpour.

“Not one kid complained and I couldn’t get them to slow down, they were so energized,” he recalled. “Those kids are dying to get out there. They’ve been playing video games for eight months. I had a kid that was totally exhausted and I tried to get him to rest and it was like ‘No, coach, I’m fine.’ It was really, really something.”

The Soquel and Santa Cruz boys do battle on the track at Soquel High.
The Soquel and Santa Cruz boys do battle on the track at Soquel High. Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

Follow Mark Conley on: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Mark joins Lookout after 14 years at the Mercury News and Bay Area News Group, where he served as Deputy Sports Editor on a staff that covered three...