High school sports teams in the area received some welcome news in recent days.
Last Thursday, San Joaquin County Public Health Services released its guidelines for teams to begin conditioning and drills, some of which differ from Manteca Unified's initial protocols that came out two weeks ago.
The most noticeable differences at practice fields this week: smaller group sizes, mask requirements for coaches and use of sports-specific equipment. MUSD schools began sports activities last Monday, June 15.
“There's no other county that's allowing a football to be used,” Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo said. “We're blessed about it but at the same time we're trying to stay smart, too.”
The Spartans varsity team was split up into three groups Tuesday. Two of them had one football apiece as they worked on passing plays. With about a third of the team absent — Pirillo said several players are not participating in the optional summer program because of the coronavirus — it hasn't been tough for the coaching staff to manage smaller groups.
The county directives state that groups must not include more than 12 participants including coaches, down from the 25 per coach under MUSD guidelines. Additionally, equipment, if used, must be sanitized and not transferred between different groups.
“We wanted to make sure at Lathrop that we're taking extra precautions with everything,” Pirillo said. “We're taking this whole situation seriously. We're taking everyone's temperatures before practice.
“We want to make sure that we're staying safe. Our check-in process is down to a science now — it's basically routine. The kids know what to do.”
East Union coach Willie Herrera said that adjusting to the new county guidelines should not be a problem for his program.
“We're sitting pretty because we've already been playing it super safe this past week,” he said. “In talking to the administration, we want to be overly protective with what we're doing. What if things change? Let's just be ahead of the curve so that if something does come it's not going to be a big change for us.
“Last week going into this week is not that big of a change.”
Except for the inclusion of footballs, of course.
“We'll find out how well it works or if it's just going to be a hassle,” he said. “We actually saw a lot of benefits without the ball. They're our guinea pigs right now. We'll find out how that works today and if we like it we might have more groups put footballs to use.”
Not all sports programs are meeting, in part because of the stringent guidelines. East Union girls volleyball coach Chelsea Herrera has opted to wait until July 20 when the California Interscholastic Federation decides if the fall sports season will begin as originally scheduled. She said her players are meeting for workouts on their own in the meantime.
Lathrop volleyball coach Heather Anderson was also set on skipping in-person practices over the summer until players asked to hold conditioning over Zoom, which she agreed to.
They've been granted more time to change their mind. On Monday, the Sac-Joaquin Section announced it has eliminated the fall sports dead period. Teams may continue conditioning under normal summertime rules until the start of the season. The first official practice for football is July 27 and Aug, 3 for the remaining sports.
“We continue to keep watch on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation,” the SJS stated on its website. “We want high school sports to return in a safe way. Our schools and school districts, in consultation with county and state health authorities will be making the decision when to start practices and sporting events.
“Once schools begin, we will be able to provide a calendar. At the moment, we are anticipating a normal start to the fall calendar. It is our intent to provide all three seasons of sport for our member schools for the 2020-21 school year.”