Shortly after the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) made its decision to postpone the start of high school sports until the beginning of January, as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Motherlode Valley Football League (MVFL) followed suit.
The MVFL, which features teams from Calaveras County, Escalon, Hughson, Linden, Ripon, Waterford, Tuolumne, Sonora, Jackson and Sutter Creek, is also planning to begin its season in December, with games taking place in January. The MVFL is in the process of developing a schedule designed for the winter, with the anticipation that all communities will be able to participate.
While there are hopes that the season will take place, Rob Dart, who is the president of the Calaveras Jr. Reds football organization, feels it might be a better option to just scratch the season and try again in the fall of 2021.
“For the safety of the children and community, I think it should be shut down,” Dart said. “But I am one voice as a representative of Calaveras and the MVFL. The MVFL wants to hold on to hope as long as possible. I want to play football just like everybody else, I just don’t think the timing is right. And that’s a representation of our whole board, not just me.”
Lance Moore, who is the president of the MVFL, feels the same as Dart about having a season played in the winter.
“Personally, I don’t think we should have a season and, personally, I don’t think we will,” Moore said. “I think the better thing for the MVFL to do is take a season off. Do fundraising and keep your name out there in the community, but just take the season off and build the program up and reconvene next year and hopefully we’ll get back to normal. I don’t want this league to be irresponsible and make the wrong call.”
Moore views this as an opportunity for the adults in the league to be an example to the young players who they coach.
“This isn’t even about football,” Moore said. “This is our future. We instill discipline, integrity and character and we have to lead by example. We are going to make decisions that are going to be hard and not the most popular, but the safety of our kids and their parents is our No. 1 priority.”
While Moore is the president of the league, he still has a board that he answers to. So, while he may feel strongly about the season not taking place, the MVFL is run like a democracy, not a dictatorship.
“The board votes on all issues,” Moore said. “If it came down to there being a split decision, it would go with whatever I decided. I’m not a dictator. That's why we have 12 positions on the board. Each program has a representative. We run our league as a collective group that makes decisions based on what the group feels is best for our league. If the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) comes out and says we can’t do this or that, then it’s done. If the CIF cancels its season, we will most likely cancel our season as well.”
If the season does begin in the winter, there will be some major logistic issues that must be sorted out. The Calaveras Jr. Reds typically practice at Toyon Middle School. However, with the proposed schedule being moved to the winter, the field at Toyon will not be an option because of not having lights. Thus, practices will need to take place at Calaveras High School, which will also be hosting football and eventually soccer practices on Frank Meyer Field.
Another reason why Moore feels the season should not take place is because of the financial hit teams could face. While no schedule is official, it doesn’t appear as if a full season will be played. Because of that, teams will not have as many home games, so the money that is made from attendance or snacks will be much less than prior years.
“We are looking at having a five- or six-game season, or maybe a seven- or eight-game season with one round of playoffs and the Super Bowl. Economically, it might not be worth it,” Moore said.
Even if the MVFL decided not to postpone the start of youth football, the Calaveras Jr. Reds would have one major issue to tackle. In February, all helmets were sent to a company to be reconditioned. That company works with helmets for the NFL, the CFL, college, high school and youth football. However, because of COVID-19, that company has not been operating at full-capacity and getting helmets finished for youth football is lower on its list of priorities. As of now, the Calaveras Jr. Reds don’t know when their helmets will be available.
While the Calaveras Jr. Reds hope to play in December, the decision was made to not have cheerleaders. Because of the weather and cost, there will be no Calaveras Jr. Reds cheerleading squads until 2021.
“There is not going to be any cheer squads because of cold weather and cold weather gear is expensive,” Dart said. “And doing stunts and cheering when it’s 30 degrees outside is not fun for children.”
According to Dart, another issue with moving the season to the winter is the unknown when it comes to how many individuals will be interested in participating, both on and off the field. Some kids play elementary school sports and not all coaches will be available for the winter season. Also, many families take trips for Christmas, which lands right in the middle of preseason practices.
Signups for the 2020 season began in the spring, in hopes that the season would kickoff at its normal time. For those who paid for their child to play, full refunds are available if desired. Or, that payment can be rolled over to the 2021 season.
Dart knows how important youth sports are to the development of children and he watched his son Nolan play from elementary school through high school. When asked what he would do if Nolan was an eighth grader this year and a decision had to be made as to whether or not to play, Dart said, “Any eighth grader has the ability to say there’s next year. Because of high school, there’s always next year, so that’s what I would tell him. Just focus on getting better for next year when we know it’s safe. There’s one thing that is more important than anything and it’s safety. These are children. They are kids and their safety is the No. 1 priority. Period.”
Much like high school athletics, the MVFL will sit back and wait to see how COVID-19 gets better or worse over the next few months. Moore doesn’t foresee a decision being made as to cancel or continue the season until November or December. Regardless of when the decision is made, Moore is confident that it will be the right one.
“At the end of the day, whatever decision is made, the MVFL is taking the safety of the players, parents, coaches and referees to the utmost importance and that is first and foremost,” Moore said. “We are thinking about the health and safety of our communities.”