For the cross-country runners at Dos Pueblos High and Santa Barbara High, the sun was a little brighter and the air a little crisper as they approached the starting line on this particular Saturday morning.
The long-awaited return to high school athletic competition in Santa Barbara was finally realized on February 26, nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill. The joy was palpable.
“We are two weeks away from reaching the year mark of not having kids on campus, so this is symbolic,” said Dos Pueblos High principal Bill Woodard at the conclusion of the dual meet. “You can see the smiles behind their masks today. It was cathartic, it was happy, it was joyful, and it is the beginning of hopefully a lot more joy for these teenagers who have lost so much.”
It would be a stretch to call this cross-country meet a return to normal, as spectators were barred from the three-mile course, which sprawled throughout the Dos Pueblos campus. Parents lined up along a barrier to catch a glimpse of their kids competing. Temperature checks were required for all volunteers, and masks were mandatory for athletes at the start of the race.
“It means we are headed in the right direction, and I can’t wait for more events and for kids to come back to school,” said Santa Barbara High principal Elise Simmons. “Wear your masks, social distance, wash your hands, and no large gatherings. Please help get us back to school.”
Among the competitors on the boys’ side, it was curly haired freshman Blaise Snow of Santa Barbara High who stole the show in his first high school race. He pulled away from the pack and maintained his stride across the finish line with a time of 16:36. Snow’s sophomore teammate Drew DeLozier wasn’t far behind as he finished with a time of 16:53.
“At first, the Dos Pueblos kids were going really fast, so I was just trying to hang behind them,” said Snow. “They all went out way too fast and died. Around the forest, I started to pass all of them, and at the third mile, I was out in front and I knew if I held the pace they wouldn’t be able to catch me. It feels good because we have been training for a while, and we haven’t ever been able to run in an official race.”
In the girls’ competition, experience was an asset for senior Ella Kenly, who took first place with a time of 19:57 and led Dos Pueblos to a victory. It was her first win.
The graduating class of 2021 has been hit the hardest by all of the pandemic-related cancellations and postponements, and the excitement to finally compete was evident in Kenly’s words.
“It’s such a relief because every step of the way this whole year has been up and down,” she said. “The fact that I am a senior really helped me push through this race.”
Kenly was happy to finally put on her pink socks and custom earrings for the race, two of the small things that were missed during the extended offseason. Once the race began, she was ready to seize the moment.
“I am more of a distance runner, so I kept behind the Santa Barbara girl [Daisy McToldridge] for the majority of the track, and then she really pushed it out for that first mile, so I just tried to hold onto her,” Kenley said. “I was probably 50 feet back. With about two-thirds left in the last mile up that hill ― at DP, we really train a lot on hills ― I finally got in front of her for the rest of the race.
“I thought to myself, ‘This could be your last race, so just go for it.’”
The specter of COVID-19 cancellations is still on the mind of every participant, and the athletes have the mindset that every competition could be their last.
“I don’t know if I’ve necessarily taken a moment to step back and look at the big significance of this, just because of how crazy it’s been with online school, online training, getting ready for college, and all of that stuff,” Kenly said of being among the first athletes to restart high school sports. “Thinking about it now, I am really excited, because cross-country doesn’t always get a lot of news coverage.”
The Goleta Valley South Girls Softball Association (GVGSA) has opened registration and will begin team formation this week in preparation for its upcoming season.
Games are currently on hold, but GVGSA president Julie Hastings is hopeful that competition will start in the near future, based on the latest announcement from the California Department for Public Health. “We are confident that we will begin games in mid- to late March or after spring break,” she explained. “Our COVID plan already implements the requirements outlined by the state of California, and we were successful in executing a fun and effective clinic during the fall/winter season. Softball is considered a moderate contact sport and falls in the red tier. We will monitor the numbers closely but are encouraged by the possibility of having games again soon.”
Prospective participants can register at gvgsa.com.
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