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SJS allowing leagues to set own calendars; all playoffs canceled
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Lathrop High distance runners set the pace during a Western Athletic Conference dual meet against visiting Johansen on March 11, 2020. - photo by Wayne Thallander

The Sac-Joaquin Section has lumped its seasons into a single calendar while eliminating playoffs for all sports this academic year.

SJS Commissioner Mike Garrison met with media via teleconference Wednesday morning to discuss these changes that help pave the way for more sports to kick off as the state continues to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Tuesday, the SJS Board of Managers approved by a 47-10 vote to revoke its Season 1-Season 2 calendar and allow its 26 leagues put together their own schedules. 

Sports may begin next Monday, Feb. 1 with final contests set for June 12 with two exceptions — cross country has already begun this week, and the final day for football games to take place is April 17. A four-team cross country scrimmage meet was held in El Dorado County on Monday, marking the first SJS-sanctioned event in more than 10 months. 

The SJS had already canceled playoff tournaments for Season 1 sports football, girls volleyball and water polo. Since leagues are likely to have differing schedules, it made sense for the Section knock out postseason events across the board. 

The traditional fall, winter and spring sports calendars were initially condensed into two seasons by the California Interscholastic Federation, the state's governing body for high school athletics. Season 1 mostly comprised of fall sports such as cross country, football, girls volleyball and water polo, while Season 2 combined winter and spring sports. 

It would have been impossible for Sections to move forward with its revised schedule under California Department of Public Health guidelines for youth and high school sports. The health agency is making use of the state's color-tiered system to determine which sports are allowed. 

Fifty-four of 58 California counties, including San Joaquin, remain in the most-restrictive purple tier in which only outdoor, low-contact sports (cross country, golf, swimming, tennis, track and field) are permitted. Cross country would be the only sport allowed under the Season 1 format. Now, all sports deemed acceptable in the purple tier can take place. 

Baseball and softball may be played in counties promoted to the red tier, which looks to be a good possibility in the area as COVID-19 cases continue to decline since the holidays. 

Jumping into the orange and yellow tiers in time for the higher-contact sports to happen appears less likely. Football, soccer, volleyball and water polo are prohibited until reaching the orange tier. Basketball, cheerleading and wrestling are in the yellow. Garrison said the CIF persists in urging the state to allow all sports in the red tier. 

For now, leagues are piecing together their schedules for purple-tier sports in the coming days. Ripon and the rest of the Trans-Valley League will hold a teleconference this morning, while the Valley Oak League (including East Union, Manteca, Sierra and Weston Ranch) and the Southern Athletic League (Ripon Christian) meet on Friday.

Lathrop, the only Manteca Unified school that is not a VOL member, expects to have a league schedule sooner than the rest. Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Kerry McWilliams met with athletic directors Wednesday and is working on schedules for the purple and red tiers.  

For this year, the WAC will be divided into two divisions: Lathrop, Mountain House, Grace Davis and Beyer in the North; and Los Banos, Pacheco, Ceres and Johansen in the South. 

CDPH guidelines limit travel for competitions only to adjacent counties in the same colored tier. Los Banos and Pacheco are in Merced County.

The SAL is in the same predicament, as its eight schools are scattered across eight counties with Ripon Christian being the lone member in San Joaquin. The Section envisions some of its schools running independent schedules in such cases. 

With WAC schedules cut in half, Lathrop could have opportunities to rekindle old rivalries in non-league competitions with fellow Manteca Unified schools. 

“It depends on how the VOL sets up their schedules and start their sports,” Lathrop Athletic Director Chuck Selna said. “We can't dictate what they're going to do just like they can't dictate what we are going to do. Each league is doing what is best for their league.

“No one is going to have full schedules, if we're being realistic, but if we can fit in a couple contacts here and there with Manteca Unified schools we would love to do that,” Selna added. “The most important thing to us is getting kids out and competing in their sports.”