KJ Ramey

KJ Ramey makes a move to the basket in Laguna Creek’s loss Friday to River City in Metro Conference basketball action. He and his Cardinal teammates were fortunate to play all their games last week because almost half the high school varsity games involving Elk Grove-area teams were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.

Look at the Citizen scoreboard from the week of Jan. 4 and you’ll note 13 basketball and soccer matches were postponed. The reason? Yes, COVID-19 protocol. Almost every Elk Grove Unified School District high school athletic department either had to postpone one or more of its games over the past two weeks, or opposing schools were doing the postponing.

There’s time for schools to reschedule games because last week was the start of the league/conference schedule of games. Playoffs won’t begin until the second week of February. To be certain those games will be played, CIF on Jan. 6 graciously lifted its “no Sunday games” rule to all schools statewide. If both teams want, they may play Sundays this winter if they must make up a COVID postponement.

But what happens if the quarantining continues through January and teams play only 60 or 70 percent of their scheduled contests? Should an 8-1 team get a number one seed from a league in front of a school that went 12-2? If a team really gets nailed by this virus and plays a limited number of games, it might also spell no post-season at all. 

Mr. Omicron doesn’t look like it’s finished. On Dec. 29 the Sacramento County Department of Public Health reported COVID-19 infections at 25.6 per 100,000 residents. On Jan. 6 it skyrocketed to 87.1 cases per 100K. The number shot to an all-time high of daily positive COVID-19 tests of 101.2 per 100K on Jan. 7. And, the 95624 zip code is where the greatest number of these new infections are. That’s basically the eastern half of the City of Elk Grove.

By comparison, the highest spike in COVID cases in 2021 was 63 which came following the 2020 holidays.

Local athletic squads are testing and taking proper precautions when they practice and play games. Yet, the kids (and even a few coaches) are getting sick. EGUSD follows the State Department of Public Health guidelines that anyone testing positive must quarantine 10 days.

But what and who determines when to call games off? In talking the past few days with local coaches and a couple athletic directors it seems as though at this point of time no one really knows. In a few cases positive tests reported to the school district nurses were followed up by contact tracing and the entire teams were quarantined by order of the nurses. Cosumnes Oaks’ boys basketball team, Franklin’s girls’ basketball team, Elk Grove’s wrestling squad and Laguna Creek’s girls’ basketball teams are examples of this. The latter two teams didn’t compete at all over the Holidays in big tournaments. 

However, about every other athletic team has been hit, most by just one or two positive tests. Those players sat (or are currently sitting) out until their 10 days are over. How many positives forces an entire team quarantine? No one could answer that question for me. It appears as though it is a case-by-case decision.

Monterey Trail boys’ basketball coach Robert Fields said his team went through all their COVID-19 protocol cancellations in December. His boys have recovered and now, he wants to get his missed games back. Going into last week his Mustangs had played just nine games. Most of the other EGUSD schools have 15 or 16 games played to date.

Fields’ boys were supposed to start the Metro Conference slate last week against McClatchy but virtually the entire athletic department there is quarantined. Last Friday the Mustangs were to play at Kennedy, but the Cougars’ coach phoned at the last moment saying parents were pulling their sons out of sports because of the outbreak. Fields still wanted the game played.

“They have more guys on the bench, or on JV. Pull them up to play,” he said. “Now, I’m wanting a forfeit.”

Not certain that will happen, yet it brings up a point – what if coaches want game postponements because players have basically quit the team, afraid of catching the virus? Should teams be allowed to pause their seasons to let this virus run its course and try to make up games later? Or, if you don’t have enough players available and the other team does, you forfeit?

The Davis Enterprise reported the Blue Devils’ boys soccer squad won a Delta League game last week with only ten players. Neither one of the Davis basketball teams played a game, nor did McClatchy, Jesuit or St. Francis last week.

Another wrinkle to this situation came on Jan. 6 when Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye announced her department would change parameters for large gatherings; no more than 500 people for an indoor event and 5,000 for one outdoors. On Friday, I watched Elk Grove High School athletic director John Heffernan having his ticket takers counting heads as fans entered the Cartwright Gym for his school’s boys basketball game with rival Pleasant Grove to make certain that rule was being followed.

Public address announcer John Monday asked parents and fans of the junior varsity squads to meet their players outdoors after the JV game to help clear out the Cartwright for the varsity game.

Plus, Heffernan and Pleasant Grove counterpart Scott Gradin were constantly reminding students attending the game to wear a mask and wear It properly.

It isn’t just the high schools dealing with this issue. Last week Cosumnes River College postponed three men’s and women’s Big 8 Conference basketball games because of exposure to the virus. All Los Rios campuses, which didn’t allow spectators to indoor events in the fall, now will allow fans in the stands, but to enter one must bring a picture I.D. and a valid immunization card or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the last 72 hours.

Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team stayed home this week when Northern Arizona postponed its Jan. 10 game in Flagstaff. UC-Davis’ women’s basketball team dealt with the virus amongst its players. The Aggies resumed Big West Conference play on Jan. 6, having not played a game since Dec. 18. Making up college games are a bigger challenge due to travel distances.

A sport really concerned about all this is wrestling because of the close contact required between competitors. Plus, there’s little room for rescheduling matches. League dual matches must be completed this month before the Sac-Joaquin Section Team Dual Championships on Jan. 29 at Lincoln/Stockton. The Division I Tournament is Feb. 12 at Elk Grove H.S. Any team or individual on quarantine in the coming two to three weeks may see an early end to its season because the Section won’t change the dates on its post-season.

Perhaps the question ought to be: Should our schools protect the health of its student/athletes instead of being concerned over whether its teams make the playoffs?

email - egsports@valleyoakpress.com

Twitter @JohnHullEG

John Hull came out of retirement in 2021 to return as the Citizen's Sports Editor. He started writing sports for the Citizen in Dec., 2007. Hull retired from teaching Mass Media/Journalism at Cosumnes River College and Luther Burbank H.S. in 2019.