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MUSD sports teams return to practice fields, Ripon High holds out
Bulletin football 2020
Manteca High varsity football players run through conditioning drills on Monday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Some semblance of normalcy returned to practice fields at Manteca Unified high school campuses on Monday, which marked the first day the district allowed sports teams from its five schools to begin summer conditioning as coronavirus cases continue to rise in San Joaquin County. 

Student-athletes and coaches have not met for organized practices since the spring sports season was halted by the pandemic in mid-March and ultimately canceled on April 3 when the California Interscholastic Federation terminated postseason events for the remainder of the academic year.

“These kids had been sitting on their butts for three months,” Sierra High football coach Chris Johnson said on Monday. “They were ready to rock and roll.”

Ripon Christian's football and volleyball teams are going into their third week of training. Other parochial schools, such as Big Valley Christian and Central Catholic in Modesto, began early last week just public school districts in surrounding counties were announcing they'll be opening campuses for athletics. 

Last Thursday night, the Office of MUSD Superintendent Clark Burke released a statement to families announcing that team activities may start on Monday under the following guidelines:

Activities can only be conditioning and skill based.

No equipment is allowed.

Activities must take place outdoors. 

Practice social distancing when possible.

Athletes must come dressed for practice, as team facilities such as locker rooms remain closed.

Athletes must be separated into groups of no more than 25 per coach. 

The district's announcement came ahead of the Sac Joaquin County Public Health Service's modification of stay-at-home orders.

Sierra's summer football program, dubbed “Blue Dawn,” began Monday morning at 6:30 — its usual start time. Johnson said it was an informational meeting, but the real fun begins today. He added that close to 75 student-athletes attended but anticipates more to trickle in, especially from the freshman class.

“Today was more about administrative things, paper work and explaining how things are going to go,” he said. “This is uncharted territory for all of us. We want to make sure we're following the health guidelines. We went really slow to just explain how things have to work this summer.”

East Union's delayed its initial contact for today. All three levels of the Lancers' football team checks in at 3 p.m.  before beginning its three-hour session at 3:30. The volleyball team is taking things more slowly, meeting today but not starting conditioning until next week.

“With all the guidelines, we want to make sure our 'T's' are crossed and 'I's' are dotted and go over what's on the schedule,” East Union volleyball coach Chelsea Herrera said. “With gyms still closed, that put a damper on our workouts.”

She said the team typically does conditioning work at CalFit. Even without access to the gym on campus and use of volleyballs, Herrera said there is still much her players can get out of summer training.

“We can go to the stadium bleachers and track work,” Herrera said. “With volleyball, it's a lot of plyometrics. They're training their muscles to be faster, so we can do a lot of things to improve jump explosion.

“As much as we'd love to touch a volleyball, we can  still do a lot more off the court to be ready on the court. We usually do this every year anyway, but we'd be able to work with the volleyball as well. For now, we'll just work on the conditioning part.”

The Buffaloes hit the ground running across town at Manteca High, where all three levels of the volleyball and football teams broke a sweat. The football program held separate practices for its three levels, while volleyball met at the same time but worked out in separate groups.

Manteca's varsity squad was split into three groups of about 20-25 athletes on the practice field adjacent to Guss Schmiedt Field.

With the five Manteca Unified schools back in action along with Ripon Christian, that leaves Ripon High as the only school in the area still sidelined. Ripon Unified is taking a more cautious approach because of liability.

“The superintendent (Ziggy Robeson) is advocating for sports to come back,” RHS Athletic Director Rod Wright said. “We're patiently waiting to get clearance from the county. 

“It's not just sports,” he added. “It's JROTC, ag, drama and music. This is a very complicated situation.”

There's no guarantee there will be a normal fall sports season for high schools in the state. The CIF announced last Friday it will determine on July 20 if the season goes on as planned.