Hope on Horizon for Santa Barbara High School Sports

Cross-Country, Track and Field, Golf, and Tennis Competition Set to Begin

Santa Barbara student athletes compete in a 2019 track meet. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

For high school athletes in Santa Barbara Unified School District, the first steps toward normalcy are on the horizon as sports cleared for competition in the most restrictive purple tier — cross-country, track and field, golf, and tennis — prepare to get underway in the coming weeks.

California youth sports are still operating based upon the updated guidelines that were given in mid-December, despite lobbying by various groups and individuals for Governor Newsom and public health officials to relax guidelines.

Among the first competitions to take place locally is a cross-country dual meet between host Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara on Saturday, February 27. On the following Saturday, Santa Barbara and San Marcos will compete on the Dos Pueblos course.

“They’re really excited, but a little guarded at the same time,” said Santa Barbara High cross-country and track and field coach Olivia Perdices of her student athletes. “These are all the same kids that got [track and field] pulled out from under them in the spring, then they were supposed to start [cross-country] in the fall, and then they pushed it to January. They are excited to get out there and run for sure, but at the same time, until it really happens, they don’t want to get too deep.”

All competition will be Santa Barbara County only in the immediate future. The cross-country season will be abbreviated and lead right into the track and field season, serving somewhat as a preseason, especially from a training perspective.

Santa Barbara athletes are currently authorized to work out in small pods within one sport, but the California Interscholastic Federation sent out a press release on February 10 that clarified the guidelines. According to the release, the language regarding multi-team participation is not a mandate but a recommendation. This removes one hurdle for athletes who hope to compete in multiple sports at their high school as well as those who wish to take part in club sports while still maintaining high school eligibility. 

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However, this does not change anything locally. “Santa Barbara still needs to follow suit on that announcement, otherwise kids here are still limited to being in a pod for one sport,” Perdices said. “Those kids who are in pods for other sports aren’t at track yet.”

The reality is much bleaker for athletes in sports that cannot compete in the purple tier, although coaches and administrators are eager to make the most of an adverse situation. 

“I will say that the local athletic directors and even our colleagues up with Lompoc, Cabrillo, and Santa Ynez — we are ready to go if anything should change,” said Santa Barbara athletic director Todd Heil. “We are ready to plan away and have backup plans if anything should change with the tiers.”

The varying levels of approval that are necessary for student athletes to compete from state to county to school districts have led to a large amount of disinformation about what sports will be able to compete and when.

For administrators, athletes, and coaches who are trying to implement and follow strict guidelines and procedures, making things work from one day to the next is a daunting task in itself without even looking at the big picture of who will be able to compete and when.

“A couple weeks ago, we were allowed to share balls again, and so that was really helpful,” said San Marcos High Athletic Director Abe Jahadhmy. “We’re just working on protocol and stuff like approval and just making sure that we’re doing everything safely, and then we’re planning on doing the best we can to have it happen.”

According to Jahadhmy, all of the events that are currently scheduled are just among the three SBUSD high schools, and then once the transportation aspect is figured out, those schools plan to move around the county more for competition. 

For several sports such as volleyball and water polo, the drop-dead date for competition is March 13, so the reality that those sports will be unable to compete at all this school year is setting in. The final date for any football games to be played is April 17.

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