September 21, 2020
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The balancing act in sports

  • Tech High's boys' soccer coach, Fatima Worden, explaining drills during their first socially distanced conditioning practice for the new season. It is still undecided whether there will be an official season for the 20-21 school year. Photo by Tracy Si

By: Paul Matli
July 24, 2020

Ever since that fateful day in mid March, Rohnert Park sports have been on hold. Not unlike most of the country, athletic directors, coaches, athletes and parents await word on the next steps. Though the pandemic is still here, that hasn’t stopped sports from getting underway. Nascar is back with no fans, Major League Soccer came back this past weekend, those are soon to be followed by Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and potentially football.

What does national sports returning have to do with Rohnert Park? A lot, actually.

Three teams in Rohnert Park decided to start their fall conditioning: Rancho Cotate football and women’s lacrosse along with Technology High School boys’ soccer.

Just as it isn’t easy for professional sports teams, it’s not easy for the local teams either. Unfortunately, Rancho Cotate football had to shut down conditioning for 14 days because of a Covid-19 scare, while Technology High School started conditioning last Tuesday. Third year Head Coach Fatima Worden explained the thorough process the boys go through to make sure they stay safe.

“I divide the boys into two groups,” Worden says. “The first group is noon-1 p.m. and the second group is 1:15-2:15. We take their temperatures and log it before they can practice.”

Worden describes why this situation is difficult for everyone involved.

“The kids like to socialize and I have to keep telling them, keep your distance, keep your distance,” Worden said. “It’s difficult for me because I like to have everyone together.”

This season the Titans have 22 players, so breaking them up into two groups isn’t the most ideal situation, but the coach is doing what is best for the team.

When asked if she’s communicating with the school or athletic director, Worden said she is independent of the school, but is communicating with the athletic director Amy Alvarez.

“The athletic director wants what’s best for the kids,” Worden said. 

The phrase “what’s best for the kids” is the sticking point for anyone who has been paying attention to the news and the recent trends of the virus.

Opening school advocates argue that Covid-19 doesn’t affect children under age 18 at all and the Covid-19 death rate for children under age 18 is less than the death rate for the flu. The other side of the coin is that even if the kids are sick and aren’t affected, they can pass it on to others who are more vulnerable. This is the dichotomy facing coaches and teachers across the country. 

Worden addressed this point directly when asked about it.

“Some parents have asked me how I’m going to handle the conditioning,” Worden said. “As a mom myself I understand. Some parents have decided to hold their kids out, which I get.”

She also talked about how the boys will all wear masks before and after practice. This means the only time they aren’t wearing masks is when they are playing. Worden stays at least 12 feet away and has her mask on the whole time.

The coach also said something that so many parents of teenagers and young children will understand. She talked about how it’s good for the boys and girls to get out and do something. Even though the players are at risk, it’s better for them to be out and about doing something than stuck at home.

One parent, Fabian Garcia, whose son Jr. will be a junior this season, gave his parental view of the situation and agreed with Worden that sports will be good for the kids as long as it’s safe.

“As a parent, the situation is very concerning,” Garcia said. “With the school closing, me having to stay home from work and no activity, it’s tough. Now with things opening up a little bit, hopefully we get some sports going because it’s healthier for them.”

Garcia was yes and no regarding the schools and conditioning starting up.

“Yes, because they can go back to their normal routine, but if it’s not safe they shouldn’t go back,” Garcia said. “It’s too much of a risk for kids.”

Garcia said he hasn’t been in communication with anyone from the school because conditioning just started, but was interested in how the temperature checks and the precautions will work.

When asked what advice he has given his son on how to stay healthy, Garcia said Jr. keeps sanitizer in his bag and makes sure he sanitizes before and after practice. Garcia hopes that the players will keep the proper distance to avoid exposing each other.

Garcia’s son Jr. echoed most of his dad’s sentiments and gave his opinion from that of a player looking to do the things he loves the most.

“I’m upset that we don’t have sports, but I want them to find solutions so we don’t spread it as much,” Jr. said. 

Jr. has been training on his own by running long distances and doing cone drills which help with change of direction. That way, he’s not completely out of shape when conditioning starts up. Also, according to his father, Jr., has been playing soccer on his own to keep up his game. 

When asked if the pandemic and lockdowns would hurt the team, Jr., said probably a little, but not too much.

“It will affect us in a way because we don’t have a consistent schedule and routine of how we practice,” Jr. said. “It will have a little effect.”

Jr., like his father, says they are trusting the school, athletic director and coaching staff to guide them through the process.

“They haven’t tested positive yet so it makes me feel alright.”

Though Worden is getting her team ready to play, she admitted during the interview she  doesn’t think there’s going to be a season. Hearing this hits home because this would be the second season in a row cancelled by the pandemic. Spring sports seasons never got off the ground because of the pandemic, and yet, here we are four months later still dealing with the same problem.

“I’m worried and I’m sad because I feel bad for the seniors,” Worden said. “They might not play, last year they didn’t play the full season because of the fire.”

If they don’t play in the fall, Worden hopes that maybe the season can be pushed back to the winter or spring as a reward for the boys getting through the pandemic.

Worden talked about how excited the four who are going to be seniors were about the upcoming season and having it cancelled would be really hard.

Just like with every other sport, there will be no hand shakes with the referees or coaches. This includes jersey swaps and everything else that would include close contact with people you don’t know.

With rules changing everyday, it’s hard to know what will happen next week. For now though, high school sports are back, even if they are in the preliminary phase. Hopefully, for the community and athletes, sports will be good to go this fall so we can all have something to take our minds off this pandemic and return to some level of normalcy.