COVID-19 shuts down spring sports seasons

Winter sports are over and spring sports have been suspended until further notice 

By Jermaine Johnson II and Krissy Hetherington

TULARE COUNTY – Similar to the several professional sports leagues around the country, the local high school sports seasons have been suspended. This is a result of many schools shutting down until April 13 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The Exeter Unified School District is shutting down all schools from March 18 to April 14. Accordingly, all facilities will be shut down and there will be no athletic practices or competitions. Most other districts are following similar protocols including Lindsay, Visalia, Tulare, Farmersville, and Fresno. It will be decided at a later date if the spring sports will resume. 

Last Friday, the Tulare County Public Health Branch announced the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tulare County. A few hours later, the Visalia Unified School District took action by canceling or postponing all extracurricular activities through April 30. The West Yosemite League also suspended all sports contests until further notice.

A third case was confirmed on Monday, in Visalia.

According to VUSD superintendent Tamara Ravalin, teams can’t practice but coaches may send voluntary workout plans and advice for the athletes. 

“COVID-19 is serious because the population has not built up an immunity to the virus. Healthy persons can carry the virus without symptoms and spread the virus to others. It is important to close schools so that we help protect our community from the spread,” Ravalin said. “It is important that students and teachers stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing and follow the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) such as frequent handwashing.” 

Ravalin, who is also a chairperson on the CIF Superintendent’s Interleague Council, explained that a plan should be developed to allow athletes to re-condition prior to resuming competitive meets and games. 

“We discussed resuming competitions in May but that will depend on the spread of the virus…possibly some games/meets could be made up but the season would end at the normal time. The reason for ending on time is that divisional and state finals are already set for most sports,” she said.

Before the first case of the virus was confirmed in Tulare County, Exeter had previously decided to cancel all athletic competitions that included teams from outside of the county. According to Redwood High School’s assistant principal, Eric Palonelli, the original plan was for their school was to only play in league games. But then they noticed that other school districts were suspending all games and competitions. It is an unusual situation that is hard to plan for, so the VUSD athletic directors will continue to meet weekly. “The script is being written as we go,” Palonelli said.

“There is more hope for high school athletes than college because the NCAA has declared the spring season done. CIF didn’t cancel the spring playoffs yet so there is still that hope,” Redwood Principal, Matt Shin said.

For the past 30 years, Redwood has hosted a Visalia Tennis Invitational which was also canceled. Not only do the kids lose out on the annual fun and competition of the tournament, but the program’s finances took a great hit.

The team’s head coach, Russ Brown, stated that the team paid over $2,400 on T-shirts and awards but they cannot be reimbursed because the year was printed onto the items.

“From a bigger picture I understand why this decision was made but I put in hours of work to make this tournament come to life,” Brown said after organizing school entry fees for over 300 different players and coaches.

Before the tournament, the team had a 4-6 record and were prepared to enter league to defend their West Yosemite League title for the seventh year in a row.

“I was really looking forward to doing well this season and trying to win WYL for my last year… overall it’s just a disappointing situation,” varsity tennis player, Tristen Schiferle said. 

Redwood’s Track and Field team planned on sending a select few runners to the Clovis East Carnival meet last Friday before it was canceled. This would have been the team’s second meet of the season after competing in Sanger last week where they were able to compete with some of the best teams in the valley.

“It all happened so fast; I really didn’t have a chance to say any final thoughts to our student-athletes. I hope we can return to our season and find some type of way to modify our league, area and section meets,” second year Head Coach, Travis Roebuck said. 

While on break, Roebuck encouraged his athletes to “Keep a positive mindset, find a routine you can stay with and continue to compete in some way shape or form. As the nature of this closure continues to escalate, find ways to stay sharp. Most importantly, be safe…isolate your training so you are not in large groups or over-populated areas.”

For many seniors, this news is devastating as this was their final chance to be noticed by a college scout since it is their last high school season.

“Years of hard work for the pinnacle of your sporting career and it’s just gone,” four-year varsity swimmer Nathan Thompson said. “I needed to improve my times from meets from this season to continue to swim in college.” 

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