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CIF attempting to adjust to latest pandemic challenges

Mackenzie Sanchez drives in for a layup during a girls' basketball game against Los Amigos on Dec. 23.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports came to a screeching halt.

The winter sports participants now have a clear understanding that last season will not be the only one subject to interruption, as there have been a multitude of games postponed following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

With the resurgent virus infiltrating school communities and athletic programs, the CIF Southern Section is extending the end dates for winter sports seasons, attempting to help its member schools cross the finish line with respect to league play.

“As the ever-changing situation with COVID-19 continues, we know the number of games that have been postponed to this point has been an extremely difficult challenge for our member schools to overcome,” CIF Commissioner Rob Wigod said in a statement on Wednesday. “Some sports are affected more than others, but the ability to remain on course and complete original schedules has been deeply affected by the pandemic.”

Wigod added in his communication that the section calendar is set up so that CIF finals are completed prior to the start of the CIF State Southern California Regional postseason. The dates for regional playoffs and state championships have yet to be modified.

Revisions made by the section to its winter sports calendar now allow basketball, soccer and girls’ water polo teams to hold regular season contests through Feb. 6. Leagues will be required to submit their playoff entries by 6 p.m. that evening.

Brackets for the girls’ water polo playoffs will be unveiled on Feb. 7, while the pairings for basketball and soccer will be released on Feb. 8.

The CIF State office had previously allowed for schools to schedule contests on Sundays, if necessary, to make up games that have been postponed.

While the regular season extensions amount to just a few days, Costa Mesa High School athletic director Sharon Uhl said every little bit helps. The Costa Mesa boys’ and girls’ basketball programs have yet to compete in an Orange Coast League game, and league play began last week.

Wednesday’s results involving Edison, Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Huntington Beach, Estancia, Los Amigos, Newport Harbor, Marina, Ocean View and Fountain Valley.

Uhl said indoor athletes started out testing once a week so that they did not have to wear masks while playing and practicing, but when masks mandates were reinstated with cases on the rise, it became more about outbreak prevention.

Costa Mesa is handing out tests for students that have the virus and those who are close contacts. They are allowed to return after five days if they test negative, Uhl added.

The possibility of shortening the league schedule to one round of league play was discussed at a recent athletic directors meeting, Uhl said.

“It seems like we’re the only ones not being able to play,” Uhl said in a phone interview on Thursday, noting other schools have gone through battles with the virus earlier in the season. “Orange is playing, Santa Ana is playing, Saddleback is playing, so they’ve already started playing, so then what do you do? They’ve already had those games.

“So we’re just going to make them all up. ... They’ve already had games and we haven’t, so we’re just going to do our due diligence and put out the schedule whenever we can. Everybody is being very flexible and helpful with each other so we can get these games in.”

It took creativity to rescue the high school sports season last school year, and it seems that is the case again.

“We might be playing our entire league schedule in two weeks,” Uhl said. “It could come down to that. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to be OK. Most of the kids are going to be able to come back next week, so I’m hopeful that we’ll get our games in. Fingers crossed.”

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