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All SRJC sports pushed back to spring 2021

The move to hold all California junior college sports seasons in the spring semester comes as colleges nationally start to tweak athletic schedules.|

All 17 sports offered by Santa Rosa Junior College will take place during the spring semester, including the traditional fall rite of football, because of safety concerns over the contagious coronavirus. The return to athletics in January will only occur if it is safe to do so, a decision that will be guided primarily by state and local health guidelines.

The California Community College Athletic Association approved a plan Thursday in Sacramento to slot all men’s and women’s programs into two abbreviated sports seasons, “early spring” and “late spring.”

The organization, which governs all junior colleges in the state, was scheduled to announce a decision next week on which of three potential plans it would approve, but moved up the decision because the coronavirus infection numbers statewide continue to climb.

Santa Rosa Junior College coaches and athletic administrators said the decision wasn’t a shock, other than coming a week before expected, and provides clear guidance to at least start planning for the resumption of college athletics.

As the pandemic worsened throughout California in March, virtually all high schools and colleges cut their spring sports seasons short, hoping it would be an intermission and not a cancellation. Universities nationwide did the same, and some began limiting fall sports planned for the upcoming school year.

This week, the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences moved to a conference-only model for all fall sports. The Ivy League placed all sports on hold until at least January, making it the first Division I conference that will not field fall teams.

Pro basketball, soccer and baseball have all experienced hiccups in their attempts to return over the past few weeks, with players and staff testing positive on multiple teams.

Meanwhile, California and Sonoma County’s infection numbers continue to rise, forestalling any hopes for a return to normalcy the upcoming new school year might offer.

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Santa Rosa Junior College football coach Lenny Wagner, who also is the school’s physical education department head. “With football, it would be absolutely impossible to social distance.”

The decision to push back junior college sports may weigh on competitions at the high school level as well. Several high school coaches said they expect fall sports in Sonoma County schools to be delayed as well.

The Santa Rosa City Schools district is considering various models of how school may proceed in the upcoming school year. If the coronavirus rate shows the county hasn’t slowed the spread, the district could only offer remote learning, likely prohibiting sports.

The CCCAA’s contingency plan for junior college athletics initially had the noncontact sports of men’s and women’s cross country and women’s golf competing in the fall, but changed in its final version to move those sports to the early spring.

Fall sports like football, soccer, wrestling and basketball — all considered full-contact sports — will also play in the first season, beginning in February, with practices allowed mid-January.

Late spring sports with minimal or no contact include baseball, softball, men’s golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field. Those sports would begin in April and be able to practice in late March.

All sports will have abbreviated seasons of 70% of the number of competition dates that they are currently permitted. The CCCAA will not have state championships in 2020-21, although conferences will be able to host regional postseason competitions.

Here is a calendar of junior college sports for 2021: https://www.cccaasports.org/coronavirus/Contingency_Plans_Master_July_17.pdf

SRJC Athletic Director Matt Markovich said the contingency plan provides a blueprint to work with, though whether sports are possible in January remains to be seen.

“Who knows where this virus is going to go, what the state is going to look like in a couple months,” he said. “But this gives us some time to plan. We’re not seeing the state or county recover as fast as we’d hoped, but the No. 1 priority is to keep everyone safe.”

Read the CCCAA announcement here: https://www.cccaasports.org/coronavirus/Contingency_Plan_announcement

The guidance is the first step in reaching out to athletes who’ve been cut off for months from their school, coaches and teammates.

“The most important thing is it allows us to at least start working on a plan to keep our student-athletes connected, connected to the district, the coaches, their team,” Markovich said. “It will allow us to get back to the office on Monday and start putting things together.”

SRJC has already announced it will continue remote classes through this fall.

Resuming sports will mean amending the coach-instructors’ schedules and teaching loads. Athletic trainers, who serve all 17 intercollegiate sports the JC offers, also need a plan, Markovich said.

“We know we’re going to try to compete in the spring,” he said. “But what are we allowed to do in the fall? Can we work out? Can we practice?

“That ball is rolling to see what this looks like,” he said. “Is it doable? Absolutely. Is it what’s in the best interest of the kids? Yes. We don’t want our kids to lose a year.”

Swimming and diving coach Jill McCormick said some athletes are already drifting away from their teams and school.

Just three weeks ago, the association appeared headed toward another plan that would allow more sports earlier.

Of three plans the group considered, the Conventional Plan kept all sports except men’s and women’s basketball in their traditional places on the calendar. But that was contingent on California being in phase four of its reopening by mid-July, a likelihood that’s diminished recently.

Instead, the board decided to approve implementation of the Contingency Plan rather than wait for July 17.

“When you start going deep down the rabbit hole, it was like, ‘How are we going to start this in a month? Can we be competition ready in two months?” McCormick said.

“I still very much feel that for my sport, we can and it return to practice, or some form of practice, safely.”

Still, she said delaying all sports probably offers the best chance for success.

“Pushing it back is honestly the best chance for us to legitimately have an opportunity — though there are still no guarantees here — to actually put something viable together that is a solid experience for our student-athletes,” she said. “The later we wait, the better chance we have.”

And that means much more than just competing in sports, McCormick said.

Athletics can be a lifeline for a junior college student-athlete and a reason to continue with higher education — particularly with young adults who may be dealing with poverty, eating disorders, mental health issues and simply transitioning to adulthood.

Though she has 40 people on her roster, just one third showed up last week for a virtual team meeting, McCormick said.

“I’m already losing them,” she said. She’s hoping to get permission from school leadership to open the JC’s swim center, since city and public pools are allowed open under the county coronavirus health order.

SRJC coaches will meet on Monday to begin discussing scheduling, logistics and other practicalities of resuming sports.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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