After a lost year, high school sports are back on track

Clay Kallam

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The first games of a “real season” are only a few weeks away.Getty Images

As I headed to the Acalanes High School parking lot Sunday morning after a mild workout on the track, a pressure washer with the words “Parents Club” stenciled on it sat by the bleachers.

Near the ticket booth, a woman was unloading her SUV. There were napkins, cups, some signage and boxes full of the many things needed for the upcoming football games.

“It will be so great to have a real season,” said the Acalanes parent as she continued to get ready.

She’s not alone. Practice for all fall sports in the North Coast Section start on this warm August Monday, and delta variant or no delta variant, expect a “real season” for the athletes, coaches, parents and community members who didn’t get anything close to that last year.

And also expect a quick return to the familiar, starting with De La Salle dominating in football, Bishop O’Dowd beasting in volleyball and the usual suspects taking care of business in cross country (Granada), girls’ tennis (Monte Vista), water polo (Acalanes or another Lamorinda school) and girls’ golf (Dougherty Valley).

Of course there will be surprises, as uncertainty reigns after all sports were crammed into this past spring, and even some powerhouse programs may lose momentum. But surprises are normal in sports, especially at the prep level, and everyone is definitely ready to get back to normal.

Will there be COVID-related issues? No doubt, but remember that most states played a full high school fall season in the midst of the pandemic, and most states managed to make it through the year and even crown champions at the end. So this year, with the vaccine widespread in Northern California, even among teens, look for speed bumps but no red lights.

And that means more than you might think, as sports and other extracurricular activities will play a critical role as kids return to school after a year of distance or hybrid learning. Education experts will tell you that the more kids connect to the school, the more they learn – and sleeping through first-period English doesn’t really foster the kind of connection principals are looking for.

And though Friday night football isn’t what it was back in the day, it’s still a central social event, bringing together all grades and all genders, whether or not they spare more than an occasional glance at what’s going on down on the field. And in the gym, girls inspired by the United States gold in volleyball in Tokyo will be cheered on by their own set of parents and fans, pursuing their own league titles and their own postseason hopes.

And barring disaster, there will be a postseason. The latest guess is that the present surge will peak in early September, and many experts think that this round of mask-wearing will be the last one. By November, when the fall seasons are winding down and winter teams begin to practice, there may be no mask issues at all.

In the meantime, schools that require constant testing will likely have to cancel a game here and there, and attendance at volleyball games might be limited, but the games will go on. The athletes will learn the hard lessons they’ve always learned from sports, but even so, for a lot of them practice will still be the highlight of their day. Coaches will grumble but comply with whatever rules are in place, and parents will once again sit in the stands and wonder why the clear and obvious talent of their progeny isn’t immediately apparent to all those around them (especially the idiot on the sidelines who keeps them on the bench).

In short, high school sports will be back to normal, sooner rather than later. The freshly cleaned bleachers, the newly stocked snack bars and the smiles from all concerned will welcome everyone to a “real season.”

And not a moment too soon.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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