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Bakersfield Christian celebrates after winning the CIF Division 3-A state championship against Rancho Cotate in 2019. Such celebrations won't be occurring for fall athletes in the Central Section, as section playoffs were canceled on Tuesday morning.

While a season is still potentially in the cards, Central Section Playoffs are officially off the table for fall sports.

It was announced Tuesday morning that the Central Section Playoffs had been canceled for the sports of football, volleyball, cross country and water polo, even if teams are able to participate in a spring season.

“While this possibility has been discussed for some time, it is still a very difficult decision to make,” Central Section Commissioner Ryan Tos said in a news release. “While there may be changes in the future, the current (California Department of Public Health) guidance only allows competition between bordering counties, making section championship events impossible.”

The announcement was not a surprise, but it was no less disappointing for area athletes, coaches and administrators.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Stan Greene, director of School Support Services for the Kern High School District. “It’s heartbreaking for these kids. We have 5,000 kids each season playing high school sports, so 15,000 kids over the course of this year potentially are losing their opportunities. That’s crazy. Never in my wildest dreams, not for a second, did we even think that we’d be here. It’s awful.”

Garces football player Zach Buckey, who is committed to play at Stanford next season, is a bit resigned to the fact that the cancellation of the section playoffs is just the start. He is not very hopeful that there will even be a football season this year.

“I saw it on Twitter this morning, and I was a little bummed out, but I was expecting that,” Buckey said. “I’d question if we’d play a season this year. It’s something that’s unfortunate that had to happen, but there’s a lot worse things going on, so just be grateful that we’re healthy right now.

“Honesty, right now I’m looking forward to my first day of reporting to Stanford. I’d love to play another season with my brothers at Garces, but as of right now, I don’t think it’s going to happen. So I’m just looking forward to the next time I can put the pads on.”

Highland senior Jacob Yagers, last year’s BVarsity All-Area cross country runner of the year, was prepared for the worst, so the announcement was somewhat expected.

“I kind of had a feeling it was going to happen, but it’s still a bummer to hear,” Yagers said. “I know a lot of people were looking forward to it. Myself and my teammates, and I know everyone else in the state and the section. It’s disappointing that we’re not able to.”

Disappointing, but understandable according to Green, considering the current totals of new COVID-19 cases.

“I think their hands were kind of tied,” Greene said. “I think when you look at it and you say, ‘well why did they cancel playoffs instead of canceling non-league?’ The fact of the matter is that even if we could have played non-league, you can’t skip over counties to play. And so when they did they said, ‘We can’t have playoffs if you can’t skip over counties.’ So I think it was a pretty easy decision by them.”

As part of the announcement, the CIF section office updated its calendar, including recommended start dates for each sport to begin in order to "accommodate four weeks of competition."

Volleyball and water polo are recommended to begin competition Feb. 22, cross country March 1 and football March 26. Volleyball and water polo seasons must end by March 20, cross country by March 27 and football by April 17.

These dates are only guidelines. Individual schools or districts will be allowed to start seasons earlier or later than the recommended dates if they choose, so long as it is allowed by the California Department of Public Health.

The news release stated that practice and competition for all sports may commence as allowed by CDPH guidelines, local county health guidelines and school/district policy. Counties under stay-at-home orders are not allowed to take part in any competition.

The CIF also announced that student-athletes are only allowed to participate in one sport at a time. This moves schools into compliance with stricter CDPH guidelines. This reverses the CIF's announcement last year announced that student-athletes would be able to play different sports simultaneously.

Currently, there are still plans to host section playoffs for all winter and spring sports.

“We knew going in that there were four parts to the season,” Greene said. “You have the state playoffs, the section playoffs, league and non-league. And as this thing progressed and we moved through the year, if we weren’t back to some form of normal we knew we were going to start losing pieces of that. And so we lost the state playoffs. We’ve lost the section playoffs. It’s just whittling away until we end up somewhere with either a complete cancellation or we end up with a minimal amount of games.”

Schools risk major sanctions for breaking state rules

In a separate news release, the CIF stated it would hand down severe punishments for any member schools that violated CIF and state mandates by taking part in unsanctioned athletic competitions.

"The CIF has recently become aware that several member schools have competed in interscholastic contests in contravention of the guidance of the CDHP and CIF rules," the release stated. "Any school determined to have participated in or to be conducting interscholastic athletics events in violation of the State's orders or CIF rules may be subject to CIF Article 22 sanctions including, but not limited to, fines, suspension or dismissal from membership.

“Compliance by our member schools with the CDPH's guidance regarding youth sports is mandatory, not discretionary.”