As the clock struck midnight and calendars around the globe finally switched to 2021, most people let out a sigh of relief. 

Yes, 2020 is over. But what does 2021 hold?

For area athletic administrators at the high school or college level, they're hoping for, and working toward, a year that includes plenty of sports action for student-athletes. 

What's the next step?

No CIF-sanctioned high school sports have been held since March 2020.

In December, the California Department of Public Health released updated guidelines for youth and high school sports, stating no inter-team competitions could take place until at least Jan. 25.

During that Dec. 14 announcement, the CDPH said it could provide another update by Jan. 4. But that date has come and gone. 

That means most high school programs will continue their on-campus, outdoor physical conditioning regimens this week. So expect students to continue these modified workout programs with restrictive guidelines in place. 

Santa Ynez athletic director Ashley Coelho said her school "will continue to grind in conditioning and weight lifting practices and we will be ready for games in 2021... These outdoor conditioning training sessions have been a lifeline for our athletes' physical and mental well-being."

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to rage in the state, pushing youth and high school athletics concerns to the back burner. The CDPH went from August to December with limited updates on high school sports last year. 

Will there be contests early in '21?

There likely will be. Jeff Monteiro, who recently retired as Pioneer Valley's athletic director, said he expects some competitions early in the year.

"I was really excited to see the state come out with the tiered system," Monteiro said last week. "It's locked in and we can have sports like cross country in the purple tier... There’s going to be some sports this coming year, perhaps in late February or early March.

"I really feel strongly it's going to happen."

The CDPH has tied each sport to a tier in the state's COVID-19 reopening guidelines. For instance, cross country, golf and tennis are allowed in the purple tier. Track and field is another sport allowed in that tier.

This could force the CIF or other governing bodies to greatly alter the athletic calendars, syncing low-risk sports earlier in the year and perhaps pushing back high-risk sports to later in the spring, when coronavirus cases are expected to drop.   

Monteiro said he felt the CIF may have regretted its decision to halt all sports over the last year after some other states were able to conduct full seasons in low-risk sports. 

Bottom line: expect some low-risk sports to conduct seasons early this year even if stay-at-home orders remain in place. 

Meanwhile, Hancock College has opted into a spring 2021 season. This move was in contrast to schools like Santa Barbara City, which opted out of all 10 sports (including football and men's and women's basketball) in December. By opting in, Hancock has said it's committed to hosting seasons starting in February in sports like football and basketball.

"Some schools are opting out for various reasons, whether they don't have the appropriate safety protocols in place or haven't figured out how to perform COVID testing," Hancock AD Kim Ensing said last month. "We have a solid plan in place, but we're aware that many schools on the current schedule are opting out."

What will those games look like?

Expect to see plenty of face-coverings and more modifications once competitions do begin at the high school level.

Also expect to see completely local schedules and new practices on how to conduct safe seasons. 

There's been growing discussion among area coaches of holding a football season with only local schools facing each other.  

Who will attend games?

Late last year, most area schools were working under the assumption that games and competitions will have no or limited attendance.

That hasn't changed, though with a vaccine, full attendance could certainly happen by the fall.

So, what's the bottom line? Expect more conditioning, more waiting and, perhaps, more changes to the sports calendars and, ultimately, some competitions this spring.  

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