Hoops, volleyball cleared to return to play in San Mateo County?


A lawsuit filed by a pair of San Diego County high school football players to return to play has been settled — which affects the future of indoor high school sports, as well.

Attorney Stephen C. Grebing, managing partner of Wingert Grebing of San Diego who filed the lawsuits for the football players as well as the Menlo School volleyball player, said Thursday that settling the football player’s grievances will also allow the return of basketball, volleyball and wrestling — the final three major sports waiting for a return to play date in the state.

“It’s like Christmas in March,” said Tony Martinelli, head basketball coach for the Sacred Heart Prep boys’ team. “League schedules are there and we had a start date we knew we could start tryouts. … But there was also a cancelation date. If we didn’t start by this (certain) time, there would be no season.

The clock was ticking on that.”

In the West Bay Athletic League, the first league basketball games are scheduled for April 16. Peninsula Athletic League games are scheduled to start April 14. Basketball is still in alignment with the Central Coast Section and California Interscholastic Federation calendar. The CCS website says basketball and wrestling practices can begin March 15, with first games and matches allowed to begin play March 29.

The news is tempered, however, by the fact that there have been no updated guidelines from state officials, the California Interscholastic Federation or the Central Coast Section.

“The press conference made it sound like it’s a done deal,” said Steve Sell, CCS president. “But the devil is in the details. There is nothing from (decision makers). The California Department of Public Health has not sent us new guidelines.”

Martinelli, for one, isn’t too concerned with playing games before league play. He’s been of a mind if a WBAL schedule can be played, he would be satisfied.

“We’re just looking at a league season. Maybe get a scrimmage or one non-league game,” Martinelli said. “That’s been my goal the whole time.

“The last time we were in a gym for a game, it was the Branson game (March 5, a 55-53 SHP double-overtime win at the buzzer in the second round of the Northern California Division II regional tournament). That feels like 10 years ago.”

There will still be significant COVID-19 protocol in place for indoor sports, however. As long as adjusted cases rates of the virus remain between 7 and 14, weekly testing will be mandated. Below 7 and the state no longer requires testing, but school districts and schools can decide to use more stringent safety measures. San Mateo County currently has an adjusted case rate of 4, yet the San Mateo Union High School District is still testing all its student-athletes and coaching staffs.

Now that a return to indoor sports has been cleared, the hard work begins. Martinelli said one of his concerns is making sure his players are in the proper shape to be playing high school basketball. While SHP athletics have been conditioning and weight lifting, even Martinelli acknowledges it will take some time for players to get into playing shape.

“You don’t want to just come out of the gate (firing). Some kids may not be properly conditioned. We’ve had strength and conditioning outside, but the conditioning part hasn’t been as solid,” Martinelli said. “I think guys who have been playing AAU (club basketball) will probably be in better condition. We might have to be careful with that. We might have to expand the roster.”

The other piece of the puzzle is the fact there are so many other extenuating issues related to putting on a high school basketball game or volleyball match. Do officials need to be tested? Will there be enough referees? How will road teams travel without buses? What about student-athletes playing more than one sport or playing for more than one team?

If he was just coaching basketball, Martinelli might have a different perspective. But as the athletic director for boys’ sports at Sacred Heart Prep, Martinelli has to think of all these other issues, as well as the fact that in a few weeks, all 13 varsity sports offered at SHP, will be in play.

“There’s a scheduling piece. A supervision piece,” Martinelli said. “I think [all these sports going on at once] is really going to tax athletic departments.”

Athletic departments may not be the only ones whose facilities will be impacted with indoor sports being played. Sell said some administrators have ideas about the use of school gyms.

“I was in a meeting with some administrators and I know more than once was counting on those gyms for classroom space,” said Sell, who is also the Aragon AD and football coach.

But Martinelli is willing to put up with the logistical issues that inevitably will crop up. It beats the alternative of not playing.

“Our kids have been suffering a little bit. Just knowing we can get back in the gym (is great),” Martinelli said. “We know it’s going to be scaled down, but see the kids playing against another team … that’s why we do this.”

Said Sell: “This thing has more twists and turns than your favorite mystery. For the indoor sports, going from orange (tier) to yellow, to ‘let’s go.’ You can tell why AD heads are spinning. We’re happy as can be, but we also know we’re going to be flooded for requests for gym space we simply do not have.”

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