ST. GEORGE — Last week, the UHSAA and other high school sports governing bodies were supposed to receive a letter or announcement from the office of Gov. Gary Herbert outlining return-to-play protocols for winter sports in the state.
Instead, on Sunday, Herbert announced new COVID-19 based restrictions, one of which was a two-week shutdown of most extracurricular activities, with the exception of playoff games.
The restrictions landed in a sweet spot between fall and winter sports and have only cost most schools a swim meet or two, but the ripples of the shutdown will be felt longer for every school, from having to postpone games outside of the two-week window to seeing sports budgets decimated.
For swimming, it puts an immediate halt on competition. For the Cedar Reds, it takes out not only a home-hosted meet but presents further challenges for student athletes. They not only have to pay to use the Cedar City Aquatic Center, adding a barrier to staying in shape, but there is also the psychological side of not competing during the crisis.
“I worry about the mental health of our kids with all that’s going on,” coach Megan Moses said. “I can see the effects of it already. Just coming to practice and getting that exercise and that extra workout in, it relieves stress. It helps them calm down. And not to have that right now is tough.”
Swimming is the most immediately impacted sport, with actual events being canceled, but other sports, such as basketball and wrestling, have had to postpone behind-the-scenes events that will slow their return to play once it is allowed.
The most notable is team tryouts. Because teams haven’t completely filled out their rosters yet and won’t be able to do so until tryouts are finished, many teams won’t be ready to compete until early December at the earliest. Some athletic directors expressed a belief that their schools might not be able to play again until the middle of December.
According to MaxPreps, all Region 9 basketball teams had their first game scheduled before Dec. 11 with the exception of Pine View’s girls team, which was slated to play on Dec. 19. Some of those first games, especially the ones in the last week of November, have already been canceled or postponed. It’s possible that more teams will start closer to Pine View’s date.
In the event that happens, teams will run into another break in play right away: the UHSAA moratorium on sports for winter break, which runs from Dec. 23-27. But even if it’s just for one week, Crimson Cliffs activities director Mike Winslow said there is motivation to get athletes back on the court, mat and in the pool as soon as possible.
“The kids and coaches need time together as a team to build and develop,” Winslow said. “With a week under their belts, kids can know workout routines, fundamentals exercises, et cetera, and can work on those over break.”
The hope and belief is that there is motivation to find a way to make winter sports work, whether it be on Nov. 23 when the mandate expires, in mid-December or even January.
However, noncompetition events may be harder to replace. Canyon View had to cancel the Talon Craft Fair, a fundraiser for its drill team that athletic director Kyle Robinson estimated accounts for $20,000 to $25,000 – roughly half of the team’s funding. They have been able to recoup some of the losses through raffle ticket sales, but the deficit will still be substantial.
“It’s going to be tough,” Robinson said. “They’re going to have to get creative.”
Robinson said there is a hope the fundraiser can be rescheduled for spring 2021, but mention of spring also brings up a sobering possibility as coaches and athletic directors remember the cancellation of all sports earlier this year.
Herbert said he doesn’t want sports to stop from happening and that he just wanted to “take a pause.”
“I don’t see any way that we will be able to have sports activities unless the players are tested on a regular basis,” the governor said in a press conference.
However, some of his requirements for returning to play are ambitious in the eyes of high school sports officials. What exactly “a regular basis” means is unclear, they say, as is the ability to execute such a plan. But for now the pause will have to suffice, with the hope that sports can resume shortly after the shutdown.
“Two weeks sure better than two months,” Snow Canyon basketball coach Doug Meacham said. “The mindset is just a cautious hope that we can get going.”
Meacham added that some solace comes from the fact that all teams are dealing with the shutdown.
How long the shutdown lasts is yet to be determined, but even if it is just two weeks, Region 9 will still be feeling its impacts into at least December – and likely longer.
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