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Improved COVID-19 case rate gives area schools go-ahead to begin contact sports
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Sierra head football coach Chris Johnson directs the offense as it works on its passing game on Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

The “2020” high school football season is finally underway for Manteca-area schools.

The adjusted case rate in San Joaquin County has dropped from 17.1 to 11.6 per 100,000 people, according to the weekly metrics released by California Department of Public Health on Tuesday. Recent changes to CDPH's guidelines on the return of youth and high school sports requires the adjusted case rate to be at or

Bulletin sports 2020-21
Sierra quarterbacks Adam Berrera and Tyler Looney target their receivers downfield in practice Tuesday night. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
below 14 per 100,000 for moderate-contact sports — football, soccer and water polo — to begin. 

Valley Oak League athletic directors have been meeting in the last week to hammer out schedules and coronavirus protocols. Football practices started for VOL members on Monday, anticipating the improving case rate in the county would dip below the threshold. 

“I'll tell you what, we (athletic directors) are scrambling, but we're doing the best we can because we know it's what is best for the kids,” Manteca athletic director Bill Slikker said. “After school, seeing all these kids doing baseball, softball, track and football is uplifting — it's just good to see them out there.”

Soccer and water polo have been wedged into the VOL's Season 2 calendar that already includes baseball, softball, track, boys golf and girls tennis. 

Only five VOL schools will field water polo teams — Kimball, Oakdale, Ripon, Sierra and Weston Ranch. The first games are set for April 16. Soccer begins April 20 with the boys and April 21 for the girls. 

The football season kicks off with games March 19 will last five weeks with final contests penciled in for April 17. There are two glaring omissions from the VOL football schedule — Central Catholic and Ripon Christian. 

Central Catholic will play an independent schedule, while Ripon Christian has opted to not participate. Players at Ripon Christian are already competing for the Knights Outdoor Fitness & Skillz Academy of the California Association of Private Sports club football league. CAPS President Phil Grams confirmed on Tuesday that the league is playing out the rest of its schedule despite the return of high school football. 

For this academic year only, the VOL has welcomed Escalon, Ripon and Ripon Christian to its seven-school lineup. With a maximum of five games, the VOL schedule was going to be imbalanced anyway. Slikker said competitive equity was weighed into every team's schedule. 

Two teams have non-league contacts for Week 2: Escalon faces normal Trans-Valley League rival Hughson on March 26, while Weston Ranch is awaiting an agreement from a potential Southern Athletic League opponent. 

Bulletin sports 2020-21
Jaime Aguilar, far right, and the rest of the Sierra High football team go through agility drills at the start of practice on Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

One other scheduling quirk involved Oakdale, which cannot start practicing until next week because Stanislaus County's adjusted case rate is at 15.7. If Oakdale begins practicing next Monday, it can play its Week 1 contest against Escalon on March 20 — one day after the rest of the league opens. 

Players and coaches for football and water polo teams are required to be tested for COVID-19 weekly as long as case rates remain in the 7-14 range. Testing procedures vary from district to district. Manteca Unified schools will tests Mondays and get results Thursdays. 

School bands and cheerleaders will be allowed to perform at football games and in front of fans. Two tickets are going to be available to each football player for home and away games. Band members and cheerleaders are allotted two tickets apiece for home games only. Tickets are only for family members from the same household as the participants. 

It will be a season like no other, but the athletes are just grateful to have one. Sierra star running back Kimoni Stanley, who will get the chance to chase down his school's career rushing and touchdown records,

Bulletin sports 2020-21
Sierra head football coach Chris Johnson works with a lineman in practice on Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
said it was difficult for many teammates to stay motivated while conditioning over the summer, fall and winter seasons.

“It was hard because a lot of people were losing hope and stopped showing up to practice,” Stanley said. “People were getting jobs because they were just trying to move on.”

The intensity of practices this week have already felt different this week. 

“Honestly, it feels like I picked up where I left off,” Stanley said. “It's like I have completely forgotten about everything that happened beforehand, because now I'm just focused on playing football.”