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LBUSD Athletic Directors Face Big Challenges To Restart Sports

Uncertainty has been prevalent everywhere this year, but the local schools and their sports teams are trying to get ahead of the game and prepare for all possibilities as competition resumes.

The athletic directors of the Long Beach Unified School District met with new Superintendent Jill Baker’s staff in January to discuss the upcoming sports schedule amidst COVID-19 concerns. In their last meeting two weeks ago they were assured that the Moore League will compete if and when the state of California allows the return of athletics on campus.

“I feel so confident that we’re going to have sports,” Lakewood Athletic Director Mike Wadley said. “It’s going to be so much fun. We’re going to be running around everywhere. We hope it never happens again, but it’s going to be a blast.”

High school teams are currently allowed to participate in conditioning and strength training outdoors, per Long Beach Health Department orders.

“We’re just going to stay positive,” Long Beach Poly Athletic Director Rob Shock said. “I believe that our principals and district really want sports (to return) so we can all move forward. We’re just going to follow what we’re told.”

Shock and Wadley agreed that the LBUSD is preparing for anything, including the worst case scenario where teams would only have league play beginning in January before the CIF playoffs.

“The coaches do a great deal of communicating with the parents,” Shock said. “They’re letting them know step by step where we are in this situation. It’s about the expectations moving forward. We’re being open and transparent. I think many of the parents want to get the kids back out there.”

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There has been some discussion of asking parents to sign a liability waiver in order to allow their children to participate in on-campus activities. There are currently more than 30 states where prep sports seasons have already started.

“I think the reasons that percentage would be so high is that we’ve seen professional and college football take place,” Shock said. “I think parents view the sports as part of their (children’s) development mentally, physically and emotionally. We’d also be very understanding if someone didn’t (want to sign) because you have to do what you think is best for your family.”

The other main issues that could hamper the return of high school sports are transportation, budgets and available space because all of the teams will be in action at the same time.

“In the spring, I’ve got 12 teams sharing two fields,” Wadley said. “I’m trying to get lights for the baseball and softball fields so we can practice at night. We need the coaches to understand that we all have to be accepting of things because we won’t be able to do what we usually do. We have to give a little, and that’s been the biggest struggle.”

Wadley said he’s already talked to his coaches about how much more fundraising they’ll need to do in order to afford the extra things needed to pull off the upcoming seasons.

“There’s no money, and we know that and we’re not pointing fingers at anybody,” Wadley said. “We have to fundraise because we don’t have what we usually have. Hopefully we can have fans. If we can’t, that will be a huge budget cut for us. It’s just another hurdle and we’ll deal with it.”

These games will also need CIF officials, and under normal circumstances it’s not rare to see some referees working multiple sports on multiple days. That won’t be possible this year because of the condensed schedule.

“They’re looking for officials and it’s a great opportunity for a college student to make some extra money,” Shock said. “The way the CIF schedule is, an official could be working almost every single day from January to June.”

Shock added that he knows how long the year has been and where everyone is at mentally.

“Those kids are itching to get back on the field or court,” Shock said. “Participating in high school sports means a lot to a lot of students. We just hope we can give them that opportunity. But we have to do what’s best for the health of our kids.”

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JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.
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