The long-awaited return-to-sports guidelines were released by the California Department of Public Health Monday night, giving high school athletics a new timeline to follow.

“I was watching Monday Night Football and started getting all these texts,” said Steve Sell, Central Coast Section president, as well as Aragon athletic director and football coach.

“I was, like, ‘Whoa.’ Now, we’re all trying to figure out what it all meant.”

The guidelines apply to all form of amateur and recreational sports that are allowed in the state — including club and private teams. But it was the road map for which athletic directors and coaches have been waiting.

“We’re desperate for anything that someone can interpret as good news,” Sell said. “We have more information. We have more answers. But at this point, the questions still outweigh the answers.”

The CDPH guidelines said actual games are not allowed before Jan. 25, but that date is still not set in stone. The guidelines will be revisited at a meeting Jan. 4, so while that Jan. 25 date may be good news through the holiday season, the goal posts can still move, so to speak.

While the start date for games has been announced, there is also still a question as to when teams can return to full practice and begin ramping up for real interscholastic competition.

“The thing that scared me about this document was the language ‘we can change this at any time,’” Sell said, referencing the guidelines that said, “The return-to-competition date will be reassessed by January 4, 2021, based on California disease transmission trends and is subject to change at any given time, given the level of COVID-19 transmission in California.”

“They left themselves an escape clause,” Sell continued.

As things currently stand, all outdoor sports activity will return to action before games and matches that are played inside gyms. Which tier a sport is placed is based on the category in which it falls: sports that can be easily socially distanced can compete in the purple tier, moderate-contact sports in the red and so on.

If San Mateo County continues to stay in the virus’ purple tier, the most restrictive of the four-tier colored risk-assessment system, the sports that would be allowed to begin competition Jan. 25 would be cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field.

Sports that can begin competition in the red tier include baseball, girls’ lacrosse and softball. Sports in the orange tier are football, boys’ lacrosse, soccer volleyball and water polo. Basketball and wrestling are the only sports offered that require the county to be the yellow tier — the least restrictive. They are both high-contact sports played indoors, but Sell said there have been discussions about finding a way to play basketball games and hold wrestling matches outside.

“We had a coaches’ meeting and it was brought up … bringing wrestling mats outdoors. … I asked some of the basketball players in my classes, ‘What are the best outdoor courts out there?’” Sell said. “It gives a whole new meaning to working on your outside shot.”

Of those sports allowed to compete in the purple tier, only cross country is slated to play in the Season 1 of the CCS sports calendar. All the rest begin in Season 2 which may lead to some sports deciding to forgo the CCS playoffs — assuming they section’s calendar remains as is.

If any sport can hit the ground running, it should be cross country and many of those dedicated to the sport have been training on their own. But training at home and preparing for race conditions are two different things and Menlo School cross country coach Jorge Chen said many coaches are already preparing their runners for less-than-ideal times this season.

“I believe the top coaches in our section are letting the kids know that this (situation) is not ideal,” Chen said. “At the same time, we have to keep the kids positive. … I was assuming our cross country season would be canceled. … Just getting them out there is a win.”

The various high school districts in San Mateo County are working on a return-to-play plan that would, in some respects, go against the current CCS playoff plan in place. But the general consensus around the Peninsula Athletic League, especially, is that many athletic programs are simply looking to get the kids out and playing.

Golf is a prime example of what it will take to get a season played. According to the CCS calendar, both the boys’ and girls’ seasons are to be played in Season 2. The San Mateo Union High School District is working on a plan, in conjunction with the other districts, of splitting up the girls’ and boys’ seasons. Splitting them up would allow schools better access to already overflowing golf courses.

“We’re one of the few sports that don’t have facilities on (campus) site,” said Jimmy Ikeda, SMUHSD girls’ golf coordinator and coach of the San Mateo girls’ and boys’ golf teams.

Poplar Creek has been the home course for the schools in the SMUHSD, but Ikeda said he is reaching out to other local courses as well, hoping spread the impact of trying to play a high school golf match.

“We’re looking at Mariners (Point), Crystal (Springs). Looking to see if any of the country clubs can host us,” Ikeda said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pretty sure I can get what I need to.”

The proposal would mean, however, the girls’ golf season would be giving up its CCS playoff chances as the PAL schedule would not align with the section’s.

Ultimately, the goal of many coaches and administrators is to get kids back on the field, out of the house, off the computer and back interacting and socializing with their peers.

“The main focus is to get as many kids playing sports as soon as possible,” Sell said. “That is the guiding factor. If postseason play is a casualty of that? So be it.”

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