The common mantra among area coaches and athletic directors is that they are willing to take whatever steps necessary to ensure a healthy and safe way to get high school student-athletes back on the field and competing in some aspect this fall.
It’s already assumed that the beginning of the 2020-21 fall sports calendar won’t look like anything that has been presented before, so anything that looks normal on the surface, certainly won’t upon closer examination.
As such, a task force of Peninsula Athletic League athletic directors has been working with PAL commissioner Terry Stogner to figure out how competitions can be played in various sports, integrating social distancing and safety measures into the plan.
“So far, we’ve [come up with plans for] sports we can reasonably expect to play in the fall,” said Sequoia athletic director Melissa Schmidt, who has worked closely with Aragon AD Steve Sell in coming up with these proposals expected to be discussed at the upcoming PAL athletic directors’ meeting July 28. She said there are modified proposals for girls’ tennis, cross country, girls’ golf, swimming and badminton — all sports that could conceivably be played beginning in September, assuming approval from county health authorities and the San Mateo County Office of Education office.
While cross country, golf and swimming would most likely look very similar to previous seasons — other than staggered starts in the case of cross country, or empty lanes in the swimming pool — the proposals for tennis and badminton could hurt a certain segment of the playing population, namely doubles play.
The common thinking is that only singles matches will be played to limit exposure opportunities in doubles play. Schmidt said the plan is to follow the guidelines released by the United States Tennis Association in late April and followed by many city governments when it comes to using city-owned tennis facilities. These guidelines include playing only singles matches and not touching tennis balls that do not belong to a particular player. In other words, if Player 1 wants to return Player 2’s ball to them, they are to scoop the ball up with their racket and tap it to the other side.
“That’s sad (if they do away with doubles),” said Aragon tennis coach Dave Owdom, adding it might be difficult to add more singles players who actually want to play singles matches.
“I was talking with (Menlo-Atherton coach) Tom Sorenson … about having all doubles and getting rid of singles. You can get everybody on (the court quicker) and most kids enjoy the doubles,” Owdom continued.
But like a lot of coaches, Owdom said he would be happy to get whatever the fall can provide in terms of high school athletics. If that means playing all singles matches, then so be it.
“They’re tying to do what’s safe, but bottom line, it’s great if we can get everybody out. Myself and most coaches, we want all [the players] to get out there, try to resume our lives however we can,” Owdom said. “Maybe we don’t play non-league. If you play just a league schedule, that would be a wonderful thing to get us started.”
But not everyone is on board, across the board, returning to the court just because you can. Burlingame tennis coach Bill Smith, who is the PAL tennis chairman and league representative to the Central Coast Section, is torn between being a former athlete and coach who advocates for playing and being responsible for the health of his team.
“What my personal beliefs would be would be totally different than if I was wearing an official’s hat,” Smith said. “We should have been out there the whole time — that’s me talking as a coach. But I also don’t want to be the program where one player is sick, gives it to someone else, who brings it home and kills grandma.”
From a strictly tennis point of view, Smith doesn’t agree with the plan to eliminate singles as a way to enforce social distancing on the tennis courts. Smith doesn’t believe the interactions of two players on one side of the court would significantly increase the risk of catching the virus.
“To say singles over doubles, in my way of thinking, that’s a feel-good solution,” Smith said. “I don’t see the need to restrict tennis to singles, when the social distancing aspects of doubles is more than adequate to meet the guidelines that other businesses are facing.”
To Smith, the bigger issues are the risks involved with playing high school sports when many are not deeming it safe to return to campus. Smith said he will share his concerns with whoever wants to ask him.
“If my commissioner asks me, I’ll bring up all the negatives, and there are many,” Smith said. “I would voice some strong opinions.”
At the end of the day, however, Smith said he will be back on the court when he is given the go-ahead.
“As a coach, it’s my team,” Smith said. “If they say we only play schools in our district, we can only play PAL teams, whatever the restrictions are, if my kids want to play and my school wants us to play, then yes, I would (play).”