Play put on pause throughout Sonoma County sports scene

Once the coronavirus toppled the NBA season, the rest of the sports dominoes followed, including those in Sonoma County.|

Once the coronavirus toppled the NBA season, the rest of the sports dominoes followed, including those in Sonoma County.

After moving cautiously on fears of spreading the COVID-19 virus, some area schools began postponing or canceling high school spring sporting events late last week. Most were awaiting guidance from the California Interscholastic Federation or county health officials, guidance that is expected when the section commissioners meet Tuesday.

But on Saturday, Santa Rosa City Schools, whose five high schools compete in the North Bay League, canceled campus-based classes and all after-school activities through April 5.

Santa Rosa Junior College on Saturday extended its campus closure until March 29. Sonoma State University already had announced an indefinite suspension of all athletic events and travel.

Local coaches and athletic directors balanced the need to protect their students, coaches, parents and fans with a desire to salvage spring sports for thousands of student-athletes in the North Bay.

“It breaks my heart, especially for the seniors,” said Jim Selvitella, Petaluma High School’s baseball coach, on Friday. Petaluma City Schools hadn’t officially canceled its sports, but its teams’ schedules already had been affected by cancellations of other schools. A district statement said a decision likely would come after Tuesday’s CIF meeting.

“We’re hoping it’s a temporary thing, a 30-day or 45-day thing, where maybe we resume middle of April or the beginning of May and put in an abbreviated version of our league,” Selvitella said. “Maybe we can get a dozen or 14 games in.”

After Santa Rosa schools canceled Friday baseball games, only a couple of games remained on the schedule - including Rancho Cotate at Cardinal Newman - since administrators at those schools hadn’t issued any restrictions. That came after the game, though.

With only three known cases in Sonoma County, all related to a cruise ship based in San Francisco, local authorities have moved cautiously in closing schools or canceling public events.

But Friday, Sonoma County’s top public health official took the extraordinary step of ordering the indefinite cancellation of all community gatherings of more than 250 people in order to mitigate potential spread of the virus.

For most people, the novel coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or become fatal.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, which has classified the spread of the virus as a pandemic, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Over the past week in the sports world, concerns over increasing infections halted, either short-term or indefinitely, athletic events on the national, state and regional level.

As the virus continued its spread and with testing still infrequent, authorities began recommending against attending social gatherings or large public events - prompting further cancellations that reach to the local level, some lasting through the next few weeks.

Since the coming week is spring break for most area schools, thousands of students won’t be on campuses, including high schools, SRJC and SSU.

The timely week off gives administrators and athletic directors an extra few days to decide how to salvage their spring sports seasons whenever students return.

“We could all use the time,” Healdsburg High School Principal Bill Halliday said Friday, after he and the district superintendent agreed to pause sporting events.

Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and other districts whose athletic teams are governed by the CIF could get some additional guidance when the 10 section commissioners meet Tuesday.

How to handle the spring sports season is first on the agenda. The CIF and North Coast Section have plenty of unfortunate practice in trying to salvage athletic seasons after the Tubbs fire, Camp fire and now a virus have disrupted high school sports activities.

The rapidly evolving virus situation over the past 10 days or so has already thrown a wrench in the plans of virtually every sport - and sports fan, and athlete - for weeks and months to come.

Last month, Italian soccer began playing games in empty stadiums as fans were barred from attending in the grips of Italy’s deadly outbreak - the worst outside of China, where the virus is believed to have originated.

The league eventually suspended the season and other sports soon began looking seriously at following suit.

As the crisis worsened in the United States, the NBA initially planned to have games with no fans. So did the NCAA.

The World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal were canceled, as was the Women’s World Hockey Championship in Nova Scotia. Others followed worldwide.

Then, on Wednesday night, it was reported that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and the NBA swiftly suspended the rest of the season.

By Thursday, virtually every sport began canceling season-ending tournaments, championships, preseasons or entire seasons.

The NHL “paused” its season. Major League Soccer shut down for 30 days. The U.S. Soccer Federation canceled exhibitions in March and April for its men’s and women’s national teams. The regional group CONCACAF suspended Champions League competition.

The PGA initially said it would play without fans, but reversed course and canceled The Players Championship and the next three events. The Masters has been postponed indefinitely. The LPGA Tour interrupted its tour.

Tennis has postponed men’s and women’s tournaments.

Later Thursday, Major League Baseball suspended spring training and pushed back opening day at least two weeks.

Locally, Sonoma Raceway canceled several events through the end of March.

On Friday, NASCAR and IndyCar pulled the plug on racing for now. The Boston Marathon, one of the country’s oldest continuous sporting events, was postponed from April to Sept. 14.

In the last baseball game played on Friday, Newman and Rancho battled it out before receiving word their seasons may be done, at least temporarily. Tournaments both teams had planned to travel to were canceled.

Newman pitcher and outfielder Colby Culbertson, a senior, said he gets it, though he’s not happy with the situation.

“I’d rather be out playing with my friends,” he said. “I don’t want to be cooped up. But it’s more concerning that you might go somewhere and bring it back to someone here … like my mom and grandma.”

Another casualty of the virus was what would have been the 26th annual A.L. Rabinovitz Memorial Tournament, one of the early jewels of the Redwood Empire baseball season, at Montgomery.

Organizer Mickey Rabinovitz was on his way back from picking up tournament T-shirts when he got news of another team that would have to drop out.

He, too, said it’s important to do what’s best for the greater good than worry about one event.

“Let’s get real. We’re taking about people’s lives,” he said. “So it’s OK, it’s understandable. Other than the fact that I’m stuck with a whole bunch of programs and shirts that I’ve already paid for.

“But we’re in a time where it’s very odd. We don’t have answers.”

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

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