The emotional roller coaster for everyone associated with high school sports in Kern County took another dip last week.
It started Tuesday afternoon when the Kern High School District pushed the pause button on the conditioning routine at area schools. Then it was followed about an hour later by the CIF’s announcement that next week’s first day of official practice was being pushed back to Jan. 1, 2021, at the earliest.
Needless to say, it’s been a difficult week, particularly for area coaches who had to break the news to their players.
“We literally found out right before we were going to start our workout,” said North High football coach Richie Bolin. “So it was a sudden change of plans and I had to mentally get myself ready to deliver bad news.”
Bolin realized that the news was going to hit his players hard. But he also understands that these kinds of interruptions are a lot more important to his seniors, since this is their last shot at playing high school athletics. With that in mind, he modified his message depending on who he was talking to.
“For these seniors, this is a hard pill to swallow, versus the message to the freshman where it’s ‘hey, this is highly unfortunate, but for you guys, it’s not the end of the road for you guys,” Bolin said. “For the seniors, when you break the news, ‘hey, we’re paused again.’ I mean that’s tough.”
Third-year Stockdale cross country coach Tyus Thompson shares Bolin's concerns about his student-athletes.
“When we talked at the start of conditioning it was like we just have to keep them motivated until we can practice again,” Thompson said. “And then we got to start practicing again and now it’s like, ‘OK guys, sorry, we kind of have to step back and re-evaluate.’ We just have to be there for the kids. That’s all it is.
"Whether it’s athletics or academics, or just needing someone. That’s the most important thing because you have kids that are on your team, that athletics is their escape. Their world is way different at home and getting to run cross country or play volleyball or basketball, play football … that’s their escape from either their parents or just the stuff going on in their life, and now they don’t have that anymore. So we have to provide it, in some way, hopefully we can.”
Bolin compared the situation to what high school students might face when dating as a teenager.
“I consider it similar to a relationship with your girlfriend or boyfriend,” Bolin said. “At first you want to date, then ‘nah, not anymore,' then, oh 'I want to go out again …, No, lets take a break.’ This is similar with these high school kids. It’s an up and down of emotions. It’s a real roller coaster, so it’s tough. As teachers and coaches, we’re just trying to keep them level-headed and priority-wise one of our big messages to them was keep your grades up.”
Liberty volleyball coach Amy Parker has managed to avoid some of the setbacks created by the shifting tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is one of several area coaches that has been able to work with several of her top players as a coach with the Bakersfield Volleyball Club team, which has been able to practice and play out-of-area games since it doesn’t fall under the KHSD umbrella.
Parker was due to start practice with her Patriots squad next week before the announcement put a stop to those plans.
“Obviously we were hoping to start next week, but at least they just decided to not make a decision right now instead of saying, ‘that’s it, we’re done,’” Parker said. "Right now just everybody’s keeping their fingers crossed that we get to do some sort of high school sports, for however long they’ll let us play. If it’s, ‘stay in town and you can’t travel anywhere,’ then I’m sure that everybody in town will play each other in town.”
Bolin was disappointed about the announcement, but not surprised.
“Originally when (the practice date) was announced (a few months ago) it was like, alright, this is when we go, but the closer we got and knowing what the numbers are doing, we knew that the odds weren’t great,” Bolin said. “Especially leading up to this just doing conditioning stuff, no equipment, no balls, having to be six-foot (apart) … We’re like, the progression, we just knew it wasn’t going to line out great. It looked a little grim at that point.”
Despite the pause in on-campus athletic activities, Thompson is hoping his online training program will help his team stay in shape until the situation can be reevaluated. He had already started to implement a virtual training program last season, so he has faith most of his returning runners won’t miss a beat.
But he is concerned about his freshmen.
“For my returning athletes, it’s not anything really new, besides having to just run on your own, but for those new kids coming it’s obviously so difficult,” Thompson said. “They lost half of their eighth-grade year, whether it was school or athletes or band or choir. Whatever they were doing. And now they’re freshmen in high school and you come into high school so excited to kind of start fresh.
"You’re on this new adventure, this new path … and the one little glimpse of hope that kids had with athletes is now just depleting.”
The news also hit Thompson hard.
“And as a coach, it’s depleting also,” he said. “Because high school coaches don’t get into coaching for the money. You get into it because you love it. And you love the kids. Obviously, I enjoy getting paid and yeah it would help out my family, but I’m trying to figure out ways to make this season somewhat manageable for these kids. And there’s no real way to do it without trying to spend some of your own money, which is not in the cards for me. So we have to figure out ways to just be there for them as best that we can.”