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California Interscholastic Federation delays decision on fate of prep sports

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Hoping for guidance Tuesday from the state’s governing body for interscholastic sports, local high school athletic directors and coaches instead received an edict from the county: Only essential business allowed, no high school sports.

The “shelter in place” order, issued Tuesday evening by the county’s interim public health officer, means residents mostly need to stay in their homes and limit all but essential business throughout Sonoma County.

Schools, restaurants, winery tasting rooms, bars and other social gathering places face stiff restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’d say this is not bad news in terms of athletics,” said Jan Smith Billing, commissioner of the North Bay League. “This is maybe the best we could hope for. Nothing’s canceled. We can wait and see. We have time to see, just not a lot of time.”

Last week, several schools and districts paused high school spring athletic competitions as the virus spread throughout the country and sparked the cancellation or postponement of virtually all professional and college sports.

High school athletic directors were hoping the California Interscholastic Federation on Tuesday would offer guidelines or decisions about the spring state postseason after its meeting with the 10 section commissioners.

Late Tuesday, the CIF issued its announcement:

“While the time may come when we have to cancel postseason events, today is not that day,” the statement read. “In anticipation of further guidance and directives issued by federal, state and local government agencies regarding COVID-19, the CIF has not determined the future of spring sports events at this time.”

The CIF said it will reconvene with section commissioners on April 3 to revisit this issue.

In the meantime, individual leagues and districts are free to make their own scheduling determinations about their student-athletes’ safety and COVID-19.

But all of that essentially takes a back seat to a county- or state-issued health order banning large gatherings of people, including normal on-campus school operations. When schools are closed, sports competitions cannot be held.

“With a shelter-in-place, we can’t have sports, no matter what anybody says,” Smith Billing said.

The NBL comprises 12 local high schools from Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The Vine Valley Athletic League includes Petaluma, Sonoma and Napa County schools. Multiple smaller schools in the area compete in the North Central League.

Any expectation that the CIF was going to cancel the entire spring sports season or even issue an order pausing the season was misplaced, she said.

The CIF only schedules the state championship tournaments. Each section holds its sectional tournaments, in this area the North Coast Section. Regular-season competitions are left to each district or league.

“Had the CIF said, ‘We’re not going to have any championships,’ either the NCS could also cancel them or say we are continuing, but we’ll move them further into May,” Smith Billing said, using the state’s calendar time. “Then we could (as a league) go into the middle of May with our schedule.

“As it is, we’re still in a holding pattern.”

Some coaches were hoping for, at worst, only an interruption in the season, particularly for senior athletes competing in their final games.

“We could put together an abbreviated season,” said Petaluma High baseball coach Jim Selvitella. “At least the seniors get to go out with a couple games.

“I feel terrible for our seniors,” he said. “It’s a tough one.”

The shelter-in-place order is in place for at least three weeks, until April 7, so districts and leagues have until then to determine future schedules for the rest of the spring sports season.

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

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