Just one week after re-opening facilities for athletic practices, ERHS administrators called off all sports competitions for the remainder of the school year.
At March 23’s Coffee With the Principal, Principal Keipp confirmed her decision to cancel all CIF season 2 sports, including baseball, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, and cheer. It was stated that coaches of season 1 sports - football, cross country, and water polo - chose independently to forgo competitions. Individual coaches will also elect whether their teams will proceed with practices this academic year.
Within the CIF LA City Section, sports competitions have already begun to occur and are planned to continue. Competitions started as early as March 18, with Santee EC racing San Pedro in a cross-country dual meet. Monroe and Van Nuys raced the following day, and Granada Hills faced El Camino Real on the track on March 20. El Camino also played a March 23 softball game against Chaminade; March 24 saw Banning and Hamilton play the first baseball game of this season between two LAUSD schools. Within our Northern League, the Wilson and Marshall cross-country teams raced March 20 and 25.
And, according to Dick Dornan, Sports Information Director of the CIF LA City Section, no other LA Unified school has canceled competitions to the extent of ERHS. “A bunch of charter schools have — a lot of smaller schools, names you probably wouldn't recognize. In LA Unified, Eagle Rock is the first and only right now. Plenty have chosen to do only one or two, and some have limited it to a handful. But Eagle Rock is the only school I’m aware of that has canceled all competitions.”
The move to forgo sports came as a shock to student-athletes and families, though not a unified one. While some reported learning of the decision as early as the evening of March 18, a school-wide announcement was released two days later.
With regards to this lack of communication with student-athletes, Keipp said, “The information keeps changing. Each school is different.”
At the March 23 meeting, parents also expressed a desire for personalized outreach. Student-athletes voiced their devastation over getting their hopes up after practices began, only to be let down again so suddenly. Administrators cited Superintendent Beutner’s March 3 memo which left participation in competitions “up to the leadership of the school.”
“There are lots of perspectives around this and families want the fairest decisions possible,” said Keipp, “I did my best to look at all of the options, but I know that not everyone will be happy … It’s not easy, it’s gut-wrenching.”
Says Dornan of the decision, “We support Eagle Rock. We also support schools choosing to have competitions.” He added, “We love Mrs. Keipp — she’s the most inspiring principal I’ve been around in my years in the district. She’s always at events, and she’s a big supporter of athletics. We totally support an extra cautious, concerned approach. Of course, we feel bad for student-athletes, but ultimately it is a school-site decision.”
Keipp went on to explain that student-athletes’ safety was her top priority in making this determination. “If anything happens to any of you, because of my decisions, that would be devastating,” she said through tears, “Of course, I want to see you run. Of course, I want to see you compete. But with people getting sick, I need to keep you all safe. I’m sorry, you guys mean more to me than a championship.”
This emphasis on student health marks a departure from the LA Times critique of the cancellations which cited a lack of staffing as the primary issue. Remarked Keipp, “The LA Times said it was because we didn’t have staffing. To talk about that point, when the students come, it’s the screener, the daily pass, and then the staffing of the isolation tent and the quarantine tent, so the coaches can train with the athletes. Overall, there are lots of parts, lots of components needed, and this is just with regard to re-opening for conditioning.”
Keipp also highlighted the questions around bussing. Athletic Director Martinez explained that the district was prepared to allow 24 athletes and a single coach on each bus, which puts teams’ safety into the hands of individual families. Martinez went on to explain that game/meet preparations would have posed a steep challenge. “Resources are really thin,” he noted, “Logistically, having competitions was going to be very, very tough.”
Dornan agreed that bussing and staffing would have been “a big challenge.” Though enthusiastic about some LAUSD sports programs moving forward, he believes competitions will provide “A lot of hurdles, to say the least. A lot of hurdles.”
On top of bussing and staffing, Keipp also noted several other factors that played into her decision. She stated that several parents voiced their student-athletes’ discontent with the weekly COVID testing needed for participation in sports practices. Per the guidance of the LA County Health Department, sports participants would need to test within two days of competition, making testing much more frequent.
It was also noted that administrators are continuing to explore “how to intervene and support with regard to mask-wearing.” In accordance with new guidelines, participants in sports practices will need to wear masks at all times, including during heavy exertion. This protocol appears ERHS-specific — a Franklin High School Athletics Informational Meeting on March 9 mandated face coverings only before and after workouts.
Ultimately, Keipp maintained that the guiding principle of her choice was keeping kids and families safe. “I understand the importance of sports, of being able to get out some of the anxieties that have been happening during quarantine. And I am a huge supporter of athletics. I have been there at track meets, doing the sand-pit. I have been there at soccer matches in the rain.”
Martinez echoed the importance of student safety, adding that he is taking steps to ensure all student-athletes will still get the chance to practice. “Yeah, there are no competitions, and this isn’t ideal, but there is an opportunity for any athlete that’s cleared, with a negative COVID test, with their paperwork turned in, to come to practice and better themselves as an athlete and as a person,” he said, “If we can do all this, I will work with your child.”
Sports without a coach will be able to go through the process of gaining admittance to campus and will be assigned to a coach for supervision. Martinez, also the ERHS track and field coach, has agreed to take on all athletes, regardless of sport.
“It’s the camaraderie, it's the work that kids put in… that’s the most important part,” says Martinez. “It’s that place that kids are going to find to work on their physical health, their mental health, and their social health. There will be a place to train, but there won’t be any competitions.”
Says Keipp, “It’s hardest on our seniors, at least the others have more years.”
Still, according to Dornan, there is another option for student-athletes “really die-hard” on having a season this year. “Athletes can transfer to another school via hardship waiver and be eligible to compete immediately,” he explains, “Typically, you’d have to sit out 50% of the season, but that’s being waived this year for any school with a discontinued program. And at Eagle Rock, every sport is considered a discontinued program this year.”