May 28, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Santa Ana College officials getting ready to have all sports, including football, in spring 2021

Santa Ana College Athletic Director Mary Hegarty talks about the impact of of the late Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli before a basketball game between OCC and SAC in January. (Photos courtesy Santa Ana College sports information)

Officials at Santa Ana College are moving forward with plans for athletics to start in the spring of 2021 following a decision approved last week by the California Community College Athletic Association board of directors.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

The decision moves all sports, including football, to the spring for all colleges in the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down sports since March. There will not be any sports in the fall.

“It’s good to have a decision at least,” said Santa Ana College Athletic Director ​​Mary Hegarty. “Being in limbo and just kind of waiting and trying to plan for every different scenario is challenging and I think the timing of the decision is great. I also think it’s prudent based on the way the state is going through this pandemic and certainly Orange County.

“We’re definitely going in the wrong direction and I think it would be very challenging to try and have sports before the spring based upon what’s been happening. Right now, the CCCAA is the first organization I’m aware of that pushed the fall sports to the spring. Most others just cancelled fall sports so I’m grateful that we’re going to have the opportunity that all of our teams should be able to have seasons if things continue to go in the right direction.”

On-line studies will begin at Santa Ana College on Monday, Aug. 24.

“Right now, everything is on-line,” Hegarty said. “My belief is that in the fall, when school starts, I think that would be a good time to try and transition to a hybrid format (for athletics) where maybe two days are remote and two days on campus making adjustments as far as social distancing and washing hands and all those things and then look to transition in the month of January to fully face to face.

“That allows for first of all, for the curve to start flattening and at least going in the right direction and also gives us an opportunity for some time for what people are talking about with that herd immunity and gives us some time that there is a possibility of a vaccine. And it also gives our college and our district time to get the campus prepared for face to face.”

Hegarty said there are adjustments that will have to be made to provide the proper safety for students, faculty and staff.

“We’re not alone in that the college is not ready for a lot of students and staff and faculty to be there,” she said. “I’m not willing to risk one student getting severly ill. I feel like this decision gives us the best possibility to be successful with having athletics.

“I know our coaches will never be happy. And I speak as a coach for many years (she was head women’s basketball coach at Chapman University) they want their full season, they want their full playoffs and full opportunities and so the seasons will be shortened, there will be fewer games and fewer opportunities for post-season but I believe 100 percent we can still achieve our goals of winning and transfer and those are the two most important things to me is that our students move on to the next level. And having some competition, they still have a great chance to get recruited if we prepare them properly for that and now we have some time to do that right.”

Student athletes have not been on campus since March and all preparations have been virtual, Hegarty said.

“Our coaches are certified in remote teaching and so they really did an amazing job in the spring when everything shut down to transition to remote learning,” Hegarty said. “And all our coaches have every students’ cell phone numbers and they’re used to calling and texting, so they’re used to being in communications with their students all the time and I think they’ve done a great job of moving to these zoom meetings where they’re doing some team bonding things. One of the coaches is having his guys read books and they have to do book reports as well as given programs that they expect and hope their student athletes will complete to maintain as much fitness as possible.

“Obviously, that’s challenging as well but there is still a lot you can do on your own. You just have to be motivated. I think our coaches overall have done a really good job of transitioning and staying in contact with their students throughout this.”

Hegarty said planning is under way for the spring seasons. Before this year, the program fielded 18 teams. During the 2020-21 school year, it is possible that the aquatics program, which includes men’s and women’s water polo and men’s and women’s swimnming, will be suspended for one year as the new aquatics director begins the search for new athletes, Hegarty said.

“I don’t know for certain, I know it was suspended for the fall obviously because everything is, certainly having it in the spring now gives us a chance to recruit some athletes,” she said. “I believe we are still going to try, but I don’t know if we will be able to field a team even in the spring because the recruting challenges are still the same if there is no face to face recruiting.”

If the sports do go on as scheduled in the spring, Hegarty said college officials will need to have safeguards in place. While she heard of one community college in Northern California that had testing lined up, those arrangements have not yet been secured for Santa Ana College, Hegarty said.

“Right now, we don’t have access to anything like that,” she said. “Plans are changing every day, every week, the Athletic Training Association throughout the state has put together a document that has appropriate protocals. There isn’t part of it that requires every athlete who participates to be tested. But they do have to fill out a Covid questionnaire, but maybe by the time spring rolls around, maybe we will have access to more testing.

“Pro sports and Division 1 (college) football can test their guys every day. So they know immediately if somebody is positive. That’s another thing that we haven’t had access to. We are certainly going to try and move that way if there is any free testing we can have access to, maybe through the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“Normally for all of our athletes, we do a mass physical day for each season. And our team doctors come out and do all the physicals in person and it doesn’t cost our athletes anything and in the current situation there won’t be any mass physicals, so they already have to go out of pocket for their physicals. We have deals with local clinics and it’s a pretty small fee, but many of our students are very challenged financially so it’s still a bit of burden on our students, so having them have to pay additionally is not really a plan I like. Maybe by the time we start having our physicals for the spring, maybe by then, our team doctors would be comfortable with small group physicals and by then maybe there is more access to testing.”

Santa Ana College’s football team is scheduled to open play on Feb. 13 with home games at Santa Ana Stadium. The team, like others in the state, will have a seven-game schedule instead of the traditional 10.

“It’s definitely interesting, but I’m glad fall sports weren’t cancelled,” Hegarty said. “I believe the athletic training staffing is going to be the biggest challenge. With the football season, that would only mean three home games, but our trainers also go to our away games as well so that’s the one sports where our athletic trainers go to away games as well. At least football will be over before baseball starts and baseball is the other sports where we have Saturday contests.”

Hegarty said she is Orange Empire Conference representative for women’s basketball and is currently working on a new schedule.

“We came up with a schedule if the conventional schedule had gone forward,” she said. “With the contigency plan, there is some talk that maybe we don’t play as many conference games and play a few more non-conference games because of the limited number of overall games. But that’s something we’re going to have to discuss in the next couple weeks.”

Hegarty said the college has enough facilities to make the spring scheduling plan work.

“There will still be a fall and spring season, just divided up into the one semester,” she said. “Our basketball teams and our indoor volleyball are used to sharing the big gym in the fall and then occasionally one of the teams has to go into the small gym and I think that will still work pretty well. We don’t have men’s volleyball, so that won’t be an impact, our wrestling team has its own wrestling room and all of our other programs have their own facilities that they tend to work out in with the exception of our weight rooms and our fitness centers and we may have to do some rotations there.

“As far as our facilities go, I think we’re going to be able to manage that. Our bigger challenge is going to be staffing.”

The college has only one full-time athletic trainer and because of a hiring freeze, has not been able to add another, Hegarty said. Hegarty hopes to be able to add another trainer when the freeze is lifted.

“It’s going to be a logistical challenge for sure, but I do think it’s do-able,” she said.

Hegarty said she is not sure yet whether fans will be allowed to attend games.

“As we get closer, I think we will know more about that,” she said. “The Santa Ana Bowl is a huge place and it’s really easy to social distance there. We have good sized gyms as well so I do hope we do get to have fans. I think we’re going to have to wait a couple months at least before we have any idea about that.”

Hegarty said sports plays a big role at the college and for many of its students.

“It’s hugely important to our students,” she said. “Many of our students, they’re athletic team is their refuge. I’ve heard from students that they can’t study at home because they have to take care of their younger brother and sister, they don’t have a space in their house to do the school work. They’ve had to take on additional jobs as essential workers outside the family to help provide for the family.

“That’s the hardest part about this is that Santa Ana College and Santa Ana College athletics is a safe place for our students and right now we don’t have that for them. I think our coaches have done a really good job of communicating and just connecting with them and re-assuring them and trying to help them navigate this the best they can.”

Hegarty indicated she is remaining optimistic about the eventual return of sports.

“I love my job and I love Santa Ana College and we are needed through this,” she said. “I think we’re going to be ready when things look like they’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com