The message was that it would just be 15 days. That was on March 12. It has now been over 290 days.
Since March, California has shut down all high school and youth athletics because of COVID-19. For many sportswriters, their main source of content comes from those two entities. With no games to cover, writers had to come up with other ways to fill the pages.
For many, there was hope that after the initial 15 days, they would be able to return to covering spring sports and those two weeks would be nothing more than a little mini vacation. But for other writers, the handwriting was on the wall.
“When the NBA postponed its season and the NCAA canceled March Madness, I knew it was serious,” said Vongi Yang of the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register and formerly of the Union Democrat. “Originally, I had a feeling sports wouldn’t come back until maybe the fall season.”
For Modesto Bee sports reporter Julian Lopez, he saw what was happening with professional sports and got the feeling that if those games weren’t being played, perhaps local sports would suffer the same fate, though he tried to remain optimistic.
“Everything got shut down so quickly—the one day with the NBA, NHL and MLB was crazy—and at first, I did think it would be two weeks or maybe a month and we would just resume with the playoffs,” Lopez said. “However, that turned out not to be the case.”
Writers held out hope that some sports would be played in the spring, but on April 3, those hopes were dashed. The CIF made the decision to cancel the rest of the spring schedule, which left sportswriters trying to figure out some sort of backup plan.
“I was a little worried, but I took it day-by-day,” Yang said.
For most sportswriters, the summer is a time to relax. And during the summer months, more time and dedication can be given to community sports. But with no community sports being played, Lopez had to stop thinking so much about athletics and focused his attention to the other sections in his newspaper.
“This summer was anything but slow, as I moved over to the news desk and photo journalism and I covered eight social-justice rallies, fire coverage and other things that came my way,” Lopez said. “Normally, late in the summer you are making sure you have enough Gatorades for when you go to football practices, but I was making sure I had enough collared shirts to cover court cases.”
Yang kept his mind on sports, especially sports history. He used nostalgia and retrospective pieces to keep readers interested during the sports drought.
“I focused on a lot of historical and rankings stories,” Yang said. “For example, ranking ‘the best teams of the decade,’ or ranking ‘the county’s all-time leading rushers in high school football.’”
Although it was thought they’d have to wait to cover sports, the sportswriters officially learned that covering games in the fall wouldn’t be an option. On July 20, the CIF made the decision to postpone the start of the 2020-21 sports season until December.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Lopez said. “I had pre-written and interviewed coaches and players before the news came out. It just didn’t seem like much of the West Coast would play fall sports.”
Yang added, “I was fine with it. Health should be a priority.”
As the months rolled by, an eye was kept on the calendar, but also looked at the COVID19 numbers. And as the winter months approached, it became clear that the COVID-19 numbers would again kill any hopes of starting a sports season on time.
On Dec. 1, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) postponed the start of high school athletics until January, at the earliest. Once again, neither Yang nor Lopez was shocked by this decision.
“With surging cases in California, especially here in my county, most ADs and coaches I spoke with had a feeling the season would be delayed once again,” Yang said. “It was just a matter of when the CIF was going to officially make the announcement.”
Lopez had a feeling a few months beforehand that sports wouldn’t return in December.
“I said in October that sports wouldn’t start on time,” Lopez said. “There were just too many questions that were never answered and not getting guidelines from the state’s department of health only made it worse.”
Now, the plan is to possibly have sports return in the middle of January, as outlined by the CDPH’s four-tiered system. But as has been the case since March, no sportswriter is going to bet their paycheck on that happening.
“I am not confident at all,” Lopez said. “I think we will get some sports before the year ends, but I don’t see a football season. Guidelines are going to be the key to everything.”
While all sportswriters hope athletic competition returns, they remain skeptical. On the totem pole of importance, sports aren’t at the top. But that doesn’t mean they don’t miss it and are all holding out for some sort of good news. The dream is to cover some sort of history, but most sportswriters never thought this would be it.
“It’s been challenging, but I covered a lot of news during my junior year of college to get some professional experience in another beat,” Lopez said. “I am enjoying covering new things, but I miss sports and hope they come back soon. We all need sports.”
Yang added, “It’s been challenging, but you have to adapt as you go. I don’t know when sports will return, but I’m hopeful it will with the new vaccines now out.”