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For local high school athletes, pandemic delay could hurt future chances

Arroyo Grande high school athlete Ethan Royal (left) on the field with coach Steve Tolley.

As most schools continue with distance learning this fall, high school sports will be put on hold until—at least—early next year. KCBX speaks to a local athlete and coach about what the delay means for them.

[Sound of Ethan Royal swinging and hitting ball]

Ethan Royal plays outfield in baseball at Arroyo Grande High School; he’s also the quarterback for the high school football team, so athletics take up a big part of his life.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was in preschool and I started playing football when I was in sixth grade,” Royal said.

Usually, he would be spending the summer practicing with his teammates for the upcoming season. But not this year.

“I want to be out there, competing and playing on the field is much as I can,” Royal said.

The best case scenario right now for high school athletics is that games will resume in December or January. That’s the current target of the state governing body of high school sports, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).

“In order to offer all of its previously planned sports, the CIF is moving from three seasons to two, with typical winter and spring sports played during the same time period,” said Karissa Niehoff of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Arroyo Grande High baseball coach Steve Tolley said so much is still up in the air.

“Right now the district and the athletics department is figuring out what we are going to do,” Tolley said. “We are going to have to develop protocols to make sure the players are safe.”

That means working out plans on sanitizing equipment, getting the teams to travel and what kind of crowd—if any—can watch the games on the field.

“Are fans going to have to be 6 feet apart?” Tolley said. “We don’t have a big area, and fans are stuffed, so how we do that is going to be interesting. Will the games maybe be put out on Zoom?”

Tolley worries about the student athletes if COVID-19 takes a turn for the worse and cancels athletics all together throughout next year.

“It can affect them individually with college recruiters, they are not going to have the ability to showcase that [talent],” Tolley said. “Losing a couple years of high school is tough if that's what their goal is.”

In anopen letter, the National Collegiate Athletic Association wrote about how the pandemic delay is affecting former high school athletes now playing sports in college.

“We are living in an uncertain and emotional time. Thousands of student-athletes feel heartbroken, sad, angry, confused and many more emotions...the cancellation of a senior season or a year of eligibility is monumental…”

For Royal, he’s hoping to get a scholarship to play ball in college and eventually go professional, so his senior year is a big one.

“I’m just hoping that we will be able to get out on the field and play,” Royal said. “I don’t care if that means we’ll have a shortened season because I understand what’s going on, but my hope is that we’ll get to play even if it's delayed.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.