Published Oct. 8, 2021
BY EMMA BROWN
Though it appeared that Carmel High School’s sports teams would experience a return to normalcy during the 2021-22 school year, subsequent to a COVID-19 outbreak within the school’s football team, a slough of new restrictions and guidelines have been implemented. In a year filled with changes, it appears that the CHS athletic department will be no stranger to revision and adjustment as ever-changing protocols surrounding COVID-19 safety force sports teams to pivot.
Recently, CHS imposed a new rule banning spectators from volleyball matches, aside from relatives of the players, who are mandated to wear a mask. Participants are also required to wear a face covering at all times, due to the sport’s indoor setting. As of Sept. 28, however, that rule had been reversed.
“I’m pretty used to wearing a mask while playing since I did a whole club season last year,” says CHS senior Nina Robertson, varsity girls’ volleyball captain. “But we do encounter a lot of teams that aren’t as good about wearing their masks, which is understandable. It’s really hard to keep a mask on when you’re exerting yourself that much.”
Unlike volleyball, present California Department of Health guidelines do not require athletes participating in outdoor sports to wear a mask, though students are encouraged to maintain a distance between themselves and their teammates whenever possible.
“Our sport is fortunate to be outdoors and distanced, so this season has felt relatively normal,” CHS cross country coach Whit Rambach says. “Meets have also been proceeding as usual.”
While athletes participating in outdoor sports are not subject to a mask mandate, they are no stranger to newly introduced procedures when it comes to games and practices.
For the CHS girls’ tennis team, this means sanitizing players’ hands prior to practice and prohibiting handshakes with opponents before matches, replacing the formality with a racquet-to-racquet touch.
“Both my assistant coach Lauren Haase and myself are rule followers, so our team hears a lot about COVID protocols,” says CHS girls’ tennis coach Leslie Tracy. “I tell players on a regular basis, ‘I want to give all of us, as individuals and the team as a whole, our best chance at staying healthy.’ That means we take it seriously and have to do our due diligence.”
For all teams, changes have been made to transportation procedures, with masks mandated on school buses and a strict no-eating-and-drinking rule. Windows on buses also have to be open, in order to ensure consistent airflow.
“We are mostly back to normal now as water polo has been deemed a relatively safe sport to practice,” girls’ water polo coach Kevin Buran says. “But we mask up and open windows as best we can while traveling to and from competitions.”
Despite regulations put in place, Carmel athletes continue to face exposure and infection to the coronavirus. Following the Shoe Game, the CHS varsity football team experienced their first outbreak, with more than five students contracting the virus.
“The Shoe Game happened on the weekend and a few students did not come back to school at the beginning of the week, people who had tested on their own and tested positive,” says varsity football coach and athletic director Golden Anderson. “That week, we had a few more players leave practice because they weren’t feeling good. And then, we had a few students separately test and turn out to be COVID-19 positive.”
At the time, a game against King City High School was rapidly approaching, with the health status of many players unknown. In an effort to address the cases, both the varsity and junior varsity football teams were tested for COVID-19, though results were not available in time for the match, and it was eventually canceled, as were football practices.
Teams missing games due to COVID-19 cases will receive a “no contest” result on the match, assuming they cannot be made up.
Athletes infected with the virus were subjected to quarantines, though the duration of their isolation was dependent on the player’s vaccination status. Unvaccianted players who either tested positive, or were exposed to someone who was positive whilst both people were not wearing a mask, were required to either stay home for 10 days following the date of exposure, or one week, but only if they received a negative test result on or after five days post-exposure.
“When I found out I had COVID, I was really bummed because I wasn’t going to be able to play in our next two games,” says junior John Phillips-Sullivan, a tight end and linebacker for CHS’ varsity football team. “I found out I got it the Monday after the Shoe Game, and I had to stay home for two weeks before I could come back to practice.”
As of the date of publication, the Carmel High football teams have resumed practicing and have recommended their participation in games. Even when faced with a tumultuous season, Carmel athletes have continued to show up for their respective sports, with many teams noting an increase in participation.
“We’ve seen a very healthy turnout across the board,” Anderson says. “The field hockey numbers are up, the same goes for football and girls’ tennis. Water polo numbers are super healthy and volleyball participation has been really consistent. Girls’ golf has a pretty robust team as well. I think a lot of it has to do with how we kind of did things last year, where we tried to offer everything.”
As sports seasons continue, practice and game protocols dictated health guidelines are expected to change as infections and exposures inevitably occur among athletes.