It’s been a dark week for more than 200 local athletes at Long Beach City College, who learned on Tuesday that the presidents of the 12 South Coast Conference Colleges voted to shut down fall sports for the 2020-21 season. The original plan had been for football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, soccer, water polo and cross country to compete from January through March.
The second half of the sports including baseball, softball, tennis, beach volleyball, and track and field are still scheduled to begin in April 2021, and the conference has set a deadline of February 26 to make a decision about those sports.
“I’m expecting similar announcements around Southern California and probably most of the state,” said LBCC athletic director Bill Husak. “The CCCAA is allowing autonomy but the way things are going I can’t see anyone playing in the first half of the Spring. We’re hopeful for the second half.”
The announcement affects a dozen local junior colleges including Cerritos, Compton, East LA, El Camino, Los Angeles City, Los Angeles Harbor, Los Angeles Southwest, LA Trade Tech, Mt. SAC, Pasadena City, and Rio Hondo.
Husak said it’s been an emotional and painful week for the athletes, coaches, and administrators at the college. LBCC (and other JCs) typically works with athletes who are below the average economic status of average Southern California residents, and studies have shown that JC students participating in sports have significantly better educational outcomes than those who don’t.
“It really is a 24/7 and they become family, they become your kids and you become their parents,” said Husak. “A lot of our student-athletes don’t come from the most stable backgrounds and we’re seeing kids dropping out of school, having to get jobs–we’re concerned that they’re giving up on education. It’s fairly well documented that the greatest impact on these closures is on those who have the least. We’re really trying to be supportive and encouraging but it’s not easy. If we had coaches who didn’t care it might be easier on them and me, but our coaches really care. This isn’t a job to them, it’s a vocation.”
LBCC football coach Brett Peabody manages the biggest program on campus, with more than 120 athletes who’d signed up for the Fall semester. He said breaking the news to the team that the season wouldn’t happen was devastating.
“Our young people are absolutely miserable,” he said. “We have kids dropping out who say they can’t do the distance learning. We have 4.0 GPA kids who are really struggling. I’m worried about them–depression and anxiety is real for these kids. We have parents who’ve always supported their dreams in education and in football telling them to just go get a job. Whole different worlds out there are being closed off to them.”
One LBCC football player was shot at during a random encounter earlier in the semester, part of a rise in gun violence that has spread throughout the Long Beach and Compton areas.
“We’re just trying to keep everyone going,” said Peabody. “It’s hard. It’s not just about Xs and Os for us. It’s hard to be an effective mentor and help someone through a computer screen. We’re a dad or an uncle or a big brother or a friend to a lot of our kids. All my coaches are passionate about what we do and it’s been an emotional week for all of us.”
Peabody, who had and recovered from COVID-19 earlier this Fall, criticized the CCCAA’s COVID-19 working group for not taking a plan to play earlier in the year and be done seriously. His feeling was that trying to start the season up mid-flu season was a critical error in the planning stages.
“We put ourselves in a position to fail,” he said. “I can’t be mad about it–I have to turn my attention to our student-athletes and what’s best for our kids.”
The paramount challenge for the Vikings is getting kids on campus for offseason conditioning, which would at least allow the in-person contact between coaches and kids. High school athletes throughout Southern California have had that access for most of the pandemic, and local NCAA schools are actively competing at this point, while JC athletes are still barred from campuses or on-campus workouts.