Infographic by Austin Hall
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) released a statement Friday confirming the cancellation of all high school spring sports. While the decision affects every one of the state’s baseball, softball, lacrosse, men’s volleyball, water polo and track and field teams, to name a few, some of the local high schools quickly adjusted to the changes before hearing that the season was lost.
Many teams at Westlake High School, Calabasas High School and Oaks Christian School met over Zoom with coaches and trainers for at-home workouts. Football, a fall sport that meets extensively over the summer, is finding similar ways to stay active along with watching film provided by their coaching staff. The same schools are optimistic that while the season is officially canceled, there might be a way for the teams to meet collectively for a final time.
“This was going to be the senior’s culmination of playing their sport for at least five, six or seven years,” Westlake Athletic Director Brad Katz said. “We talked about when the quarantine is lifted, doing one game per sport. It would be for the seniors to wear their uniform again and step on the field one last time.”
Westlake Holding on for Opportunity Over Summer
The 2019–2020 school year marked Katz’ fourth year as athletic director at Westlake. As news broke in early March about COVID-19 concerns, he remembers meeting with local athletic directors before the cancellation of classes and sports took place.
“We had a meeting March 11 to talk about what the school’s next step should be,” Katz said. “Just two days later, we get a directive that the school couldn’t meet in groups more than 250. We were anticipating having a few weeks to figure out what we’re going as far as remote learning and with sports. But a few days after, our last A.D. meeting, they shut us down. And we’ve been scrambling ever since.”
Before the cancellation, Katz said although he and his staff knew parts of the season being salvaged were slim, they did what they could to keep the students active while in quarantine.
“We technically didn’t ax the spring sports quite yet,” Katz said. “We’re not allowed on the campus for practice with our kids, and we’re not allowed to train or anything like that. I had a Zoom meeting with all the coaches last week to talk about different ways to keep your kids doing something physical around the house or front yard.”
Katz also talked about the spring sports that were off to great starts and were hit the hardest through the cancellation.
“Our lacrosse teams are unreal, both boys and girls,” Katz said. “Softball was really good, and baseball was getting better as well. Boys’ volleyball was also promising, so across the board, the spring sports are getting the short end of the stick.”
Men’s and women’s lacrosse will finish with a 7–0 and 5–2 record, respectively. Softball was also off to a 6–0 start with baseball at 5–4 in a tough preseason schedule. Boys volleyball, coming off a CIF Southern Section Championship loss last season, was off to a 3–1 start.
As part of the Marmonte League, Katz shared his vision for what the spring sport-wide senior day might look like.
“We have five teams in our league, and we would set it up so everybody played one team from there,” Katz said. “We’d pay for umpires or referees to come out and make it as real as we can. And we’d so something like this for the athletes to say that it was a better ending than the alternative.”
After a 9–3 season from the Warriors’ football team in 2017 and a 7–4 outing in 2018, the team took a step back last season, going 2–9 in Head Coach Tim Kirksey’s fourth season. While the record isn’t impressive, it is slightly deceiving, as Westlake had 12 freshman and sophomore starters and bring back a lot of their contributors on both sides of the ball. Katz said Kirksey and the rest of the staff are doing what they can to get the players ready for their potential summer practice.
“The football team is doing Zoom workouts with our trainer five days a week from noon to one o’clock,” Katz said. “And they’re all things that you can do in your garage. They’re also watching film regularly and looking at schemes for next year. May 4 is our tentative date to come back to school and also look to our fall sports, but if those sports can’t meet until June or July, we’ll have some changes to make.”
Westlake’s hopeful date is no longer May 4 as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all schools will remain closed for the rest of the year.
Oaks Christian Takes a Step Back From Routine Success
Jan Hethcock has been the Athletic Director at Oaks Christian since the school opened its doors in 2000. During his tenure, Hethcock has overseen 49 CIF Southern Section Championships, 165 league titles (including six straight in football in the early 2000s), a Gatorade National Player of the Year and 15 students turn pro.
Hethcock said he is constantly checking in with all of his active coaches.
“I am staying in contact with all of my spring coaches and having them send out emails to all of their athletes every week,” Hethcock said. “And they’re just as much emails of encouragement. We’re having our coaches send them videos to keep them in shape even though we’re not coming back. We still want that activity with them.”
Hethcock also mentioned what’s being done for the faculty as the school is fully online.
“We split up our entire enrollment among different groups of teachers,” Hethcock said. “Our staff that is paid hourly will continue to get paid. Our coaches will continue to get paid. Both have a certain number of parents that they’re calling every week to check-in. My grandson is in 10th grade at Oaks, and he’s now doing online classes Monday through Friday, six-and-a-half hours per day.”
Hethcock also talked about the spring sports that are losing out on what could have been an incredible season.
“Softball [8–2] was looking really strong this year,” Hethcock said. “This hammers the seniors; I just feel awful for them. I went with them to a tournament in Utah where they went 4–1 and hit 17 home runs in that stretch. Baseball [5–3–1] wasn’t our strongest team but had excellent talent. Boys’ Lacrosse [3–3] played some tough teams in the preseason and were going to be high-caliber. The same goes for Boys’ Golf, who we were confident would be top-3 in the state.”
Despite the lost seasons for all Oaks Christian spring sports, Hethcock said it doesn’t alter the vision that he has for his team’s year in and year out.
“The championships really don’t matter to me,” Hethcock said. “What’s important for me is how the coaches are dealing with our kids. It’s ‘Are our coaches bringing Christ into the program? Is there prayer at the practices?’ Not all of our students are believers — the same goes for a place like Pepperdine. Kids don’t just come here because it’s Christian but because it has great academics, great arts and great athletics. Regardless, we’re a Christ-centered school and represent that any way that we can.”
Calabasas Athletes Losing out on Last Chance for College Offers
Martin Freel is the assistant principal at Calabasas High School and works closely with athletics. COVID-19 started to affect the schools in early March, and Freel recounted how shocking of a situation it was for him and the rest of the school.
“It was the first time any of us had dealt with anything close to that,” Freel said. “We knew we were going to have to start canceling games. The last thing we wanted was to ruin the seasons for our seniors.”
Freel also said the cancellation is hurting individual players as well, like the Coyotes‘ star pitcher Jackson Lapiner.
“He would’ve been a really good player for us,” Freel said. “He definitely had a chance of getting drafted. His senior season is gone now, and he hasn’t played a lot because of injury. He had interest from UCSB [Santa Barbara] but didn’t get the offer that he wanted, and with this, his chances of getting drafted are zero.”
Freel mentioned that Calabasas, in Marmonte League with Westlake, was the only school that was open to pushing the season back instead of canceling it outright.
“Calabasas was a little bit unique because we were still willing to play games in May and June,” Freel said. “We wanted to extend even if that meant having to go deep into the summer. But the rest of our teams in our league all voted to cancel the season. We can’t be a one-team league, so we just had nobody to play.”
Freel also detailed the teams that he regrets not being able to see this spring.
“I feel the worst about softball [8–2],” Freel said. “We had a really good chance of winning league again this year. I definitely feel bad for our girls’ track team. We had three athletes in our track team who are all Division I. I know one, in particular, wanted an offer from USC or UCLA — something close to home — but now won’t get it.”
In the Marmonte League, the six schools are Calabasas, Oaks Christian, Westlake, Newbury Park High School, Thousand Oaks High School as well as Agoura High School, who was in the league from 1990–2018 and returns after one year in Coastal Canyon League.
As Calabasas and Agoura are the only teams in Marmonte that are part of Las Virgenes Unified School District, Freel said he has been in contact with the school about meeting over the summer to properly send off the seniors.
“The two high schools have a pretty good rivalry against each other,” Freel said. “I’ve been talking to their assistant principal about if there’s any chance to do a one-off day in June of Calabasas versus Agoura in every sport. And we would make sure that it was safe — we definitely wouldn’t want to be the only schools doing something like it.”
Feel shared his message that he had for all Calabasas spring coaches.
“I told my coaches that there has never been a better time to put together highlight tapes for the kids,” Freel said. “We can really be putting out messages to college coaches. You better believe that they’re watching film right now, so put some stuff on tape to send out and really get going.”
CIF’s Behind-The-Scenes Role
Rob Wigod is the Commissioner of Athletics for the CIF Southern Section. This year marked his ninth as commissioner and 20th working for the Southern Section, overseeing 563 schools.
Wigod explained the developments of COVID-19 from the CIF’s perspective.
“We all agree that the day the NBA was suspended was when everything changed,” Wigod said. “From there, it started to fall like dominoes with the NCAA Tournament and NCAA’s spring sports. So we started looking at different scenarios on if there was a way we could make section championships happen in the Southern Section. Within four or five days, everything was taken off the board.”
Wigod also mentioned the questions he was getting from dozens of schools.
“People were asking if CIF will shut everything down, or if we will mandate to keep everything open,” Wigod said. “And that’s not the role that CIF plays. These are schools under the control of the school’s administration. We don’t have direct supervision of those students. It becomes a local control issue.”
Part of CIF’s statement from Friday involved the sit-out period for transfer athletes. Normally, transfers who don’t move their residence have a sit-out period that covers about one-third of the season regardless of sport. Wigod said because the spring seasons are now void, they won’t be penalized for not completing the sit-out period and will be immediately eligible next season, even if they transfer again.
Wigod also discussed potential plans for the football season and the rest of fall sports.
“If we can’t meet till let’s say Aug. 1, that will severely affect our fall sports,” Wigod said. “For football, our section championships wrap up Thanksgiving weekend. But if we were to push it back one week, two weeks or even three weeks, that’s where things could get difficult. But on the other hand, kids aren’t graduating, and the school year isn’t over. There are things that we could salvage.”
A worst-case scenario for CIF is fall sports being shut down. Wigod said how much of a hit this will be for the money that CIF is accustomed to making.
“I don’t even want to think what this will do to us financially,” Wigod said. “We’re a non-profit needing to raise $4.8 million from zero without government funding or taxpayer money. And no football championships in the Southern Section would be a devastating blow.”
Wigod said the money CIF makes extends much further than ticket sales but lays in its football contract with Fox Sports West.
“They’ve been our TV partner for 20 years,” Wigod said. “Our contract was up this year, and we were set to negotiate a new one. And Fox has the Angels, Clippers and the Ducks. Now all of those are gone. How can Fox Sports in any way, shape or form discuss a contract with us right now? It’s completely on hold.”
If the quarantine ends over the summer, Wigod said CIF is all for a potential meetup between league teams.
“I’m completely supportive of it,” Wigod said. “We know that there is a strong desire to get one game in for a senior day to celebrate them and get some closure to this particular season. Whenever it’s safe and acceptable for people to gather — it’s, again, one of those local control types of things. It’s fully up to the schools; they don’t have to go through us, and we would love them to accomplish that.”
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