To help build camaraderie and continuity, Ripon High's football program trudges through summer training as one unit.
That tradition of mixing the freshman, junior varsity and varsity athletes will be put on hold starting Tuesday morning when the reigning California Interscholastic Federation Division 4-AA state champion Indians meet for the first time for conditioning. That's because the team must be split into groups of no more than 12 participants, including coaches and instructors, according to guidelines issued by San Joaquin County Public Health Services on Thursday.
“We only have so many coaches and we could have up to 100 kids out there,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said.
The solution is to hold two practices per day, starting with the varsity squad at 7:30 a.m. followed by the lower levels at 9. The Indians are meeting four times per week until July 20 — the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section dead period for football, but also the day CIF decides to go ahead with the fall sports schedule as originally planned.
Ripon is the last of the seven Manteca-area schools to get the go-ahead for non-contact workouts. Across the street, Ripon Christian has completed its third week for fall sports conditioning, while Manteca Unified's five high schools welcomed its student-athletes back on campus this past Monday.
Ripon Unified was more cautious, fearing the possibility of litigation should a student contract COVID-19. The district chose instead to wait for the county health department to green-light team activities, which are limited to distanced conditioning and drills.
Musseman's wishes finally came true Thursday when the county Public Health Officer Maggie Park released a statement to residents providing guidelines for the return of sports training. Ripon and rival Escalon, which claimed the CIF Division 4-A state football title last year, are the only two schools in the Trans-Valley League to not have started conditioning. The rest of the TVL schools are based in Stanislaus and Merced counties, which have already opened up their campuses.
“It's frustrating, but we understand that most of our league is not in San Joaquin County,” Musseman said. “I know there was a lot of pressure mounting from the parents and the players who want to get this thing going and asking, 'Why not?'”
Also listed in the guidelines for “all school and non-school associated teams” in San Joaquin County:
- Participants must be screened for symptoms upon arrival and remain 6 feet apart at all times before, during and after training.
- Participants may not transfer between groups throughout a training sessions and across multiple training sessions.
- Face coverings are required for coaches and instructors.
- Spectators are not allowed.
- Participants may bring their own equipment and should provide their own water. Equipment and beverages should not be shared.
- Any equipment and surfaces that are shared must be disinfected after each session. Hand sanitizer should be readily available.
- Outdoor activities are “highly preferable,” though indoor activities are not prohibited.
- Participants should limit their participation to only one sport/activity.
“It's good for the kids,” Musseman said. “These kids needed something positive to focus on and look forward to and we haven't been able to provide them with that. No matter what happens in September, October, November or whenever, right now these kids need this.”
The statement also touched on youth sports, adding that guidance from the California Department of Public Health “is under development. That guidance, once issued, will replace this interim training guidance. Until then, the State is only allowing drills and conditioning — no scrimmaging and competitive play is permitted.”