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Righetti High School track and field coach Tony Gayfield talks to his team team March 12, delivering the news that their season was being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was eventually canceled after a meeting of the 10 CIF section commissioners in April. Last month, the district had set Monday, July 6 as the date when students could return to campus for athletic conditioning workouts. But that plan has been delayed by the district in response to a rise of COVID-19 cases in the region.

Just days before it was to resume athletic activities on its three campuses, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District announced that it had delayed that plan.

On Friday, the district sent out a press release stating that it decided to push back its scheduled July 6 implementation date. A new date had not been set.

The district cited an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.

"A plan for SMJUHSD athletes to return to physical activity/training has been delayed due to COVID-19 concerns," district spokesperson Kenny Klein said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Officials indicated it was the district's decision to postpone the restart date.

"Our first job is to keep students and staff safe,’’ said assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction John Davis. “This past week has been a whirlwind for sure, as we've seen an unprecedented explosion of cases in our state, as well as our region. As the state begins the process of closing things down again, especially in light of the holiday weekend that is now upon us, we need to reconsider the wisdom of commencing our plan. The district will continue efforts to make high school sports a reality in the future."

The district shut down all athletic activities on March 11 as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the United States. In-school instruction was suspended on March 16 and the rest of the spring sports season and school year was eventually canceled later in the spring. 

Late last month, the district, which runs athletic programs at Pioneer Valley, Santa Maria and Righetti, announced it had formed a committee made up of site administrators and athletic directors that developed a plan for athletes to return to physical training in July.

The district said the plan adhered "to guidance provided by the State of California, SB County, California Department of Education (CDE), National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF)," and that athletic directors would "begin holding coaches meetings to review new rules with an implementation start date of July 6-17."

The district postponed implementing that plan as COVID-19 cases have spiked around the state and nation over the last several weeks. 

As of Friday, California had about 250,000 cases of coronavirus disease and suffered around 6,300 deaths.

All states reported a combined 57,000 new cases on Friday, the third record day for cases this week according to the COVID Tracking Project. There were 721,000 new tests processed Friday nation-wide, resulting in a positivity rate of 7.9%. There were 635 deaths reported in the nation Friday.  

Santa Barbara County announced Thursday that all beaches would be closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Beach-goers would be allowed to participate in activities in the water but sitting, standing or sunbathing was banned through July 5. No umbrellas, beach chairs or coolers will be allowed at county beaches Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This came after 111 new cases were reported in the county on Thursday alone.

Santa Barbara County had 3,261 confirmed cases as of Thursday night. There's been a total of 44,164 total tests administered, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, resulting in a positivity rate of 7.4 %. On June 1, Santa Barbara County had a positivity rate of 8.6%, reporting 1,669 cases on 17,609 tests with 110 inconclusive. On May 1, the rate was 11.1% with 506 positives on 4,106 tests.

There were eight deaths in the county on May 1. That number climbed to 12 as of June 1 and the total deaths in the county stood at 29 on July 3.

As of Thursday night, there were 374 active cases in the county with 64 patients hospitalized and 20 patients in the ICU. There have been 29 deaths related to COVID-19 with 2,858 patients recovered.  

Santa Maria, with a population of 107,408, has been the hardest hit city in the region with 1,275 total cases. Santa Barbara, with a population of 91,350, has seen 334 cases. 

San Luis Obispo County schools learned Wednesday that the county public health office was denying their bid to resume athletic activities due to the pandemic. Most public schools in that county had hoped to resume some activities on Monday.

A pair of area private schools had already began bringing student-athletes back to their campuses last month. St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria and Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo both began football conditioning camps on June 22. Mission Prep was contacted by San Luis Obispo County on Tuesday and asked to suspend its summer conditioning camp, which the school did. 

St. Joseph athletic director Tom Mott said Saturday his school was shutting down its summer conditioning camps and assessing the situation next week.

Lompoc Unified School District developed a plan to return to athletic activities on Monday and that plan is still a go as of Friday. Lompoc High, for instance, is set to host cross country, cheer, football, water polo and volleyball conditioning drills starting Monday morning.  

There were 161 confirmed cases in the Lompoc area as of Thursday.

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The sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News is looking for the top football player from Northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County over the last 10 seasons of high school ball.

See who our nominees are thus far.

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Our 'Senior Spotlight' series is aimed at highlighting senior student-athletes who have had their final year of high school disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes featured here were their school's nominee for Athlete of the Year or Student Athlete of the Year for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table's end-of-year banquet that has been canceled due to the outbreak.