By Matt Schwab
LIVERMORE - Chabot College football coach Eric Fanene can’t say enough about how Gladiators’ coaches, administrators and student-athletes have persevered — and stayed ahead of the curve — during a complicated time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced college athletic programs to take extraordinary steps just to be able to have workouts in preparation for an anticipated modified spring season. Full practices are still three months away for football.
“If there will be competition this year in athletics, the Gladiators will be ready ... in all sports!” Fanene declared. “The work that our coaches have done with our on-campus workouts to ensure safety of our student-athletes during this pandemic, and also providing athletes with instruction, has been phenomenal.”
The California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) board approved implementation of a Contingency Plan in July, shifting athletics to spring seasons. On Nov. 6, the board voted to reaffirm the plan, but expressed that it is only a framework and final decisions will be left to institutions in consultation with local health authorities. The board also requested the “COVID-19 Work Group” determine opt-in and opt-out dates for schools that might unable to compete.
Las Positas athletic director James Giacomazzi said he’s remained in close contact with Chabot AD Jeff Drouin and Chabot athletics department head Kevin Kramer, monitoring events during the pandemic and implementing plans. The two community colleges are in the same district.
“We’ve been working together the whole time,” said Giacomazzi, also the Las Positas men’s basketball coach. “They’ve had more changes than we’ve had to do, because we have a lot more space and fewer teams.”
Each day when he arrives on campus at noon, Fanene marvels at the standard being set by other Chabot teams doing modified workouts. The men’s basketball team, for one, has been limited to outdoor training.
“You can tell that those athletes have a plan that they’re following,” Fanene said. “Coaches are taking the initiative; they’re caring for their athletes. It’s across the board. Wrestling is looking great out there. Everyone has a nice plan for their own sport.”
Chabot softball coach Megan Kravets is having regular check-ins to see how players are doing in class and personally. Players can also do workouts individually at home. With spring schedules still being sorted out, the focus has been primarily on safety in athletics classes on campus. There’s been a lot for everyone to deal with.
Las Positas men’s and women’s water polo teams, which normally compete in fall seasons, will now be starting on Jan. 18, which means there will be about a three-week overlap with the swimming season. Additionally, the swimming championships won’t start until early June, well after school is out, for the first time.
“It’s (going to) be the first time I’ve had to do two different sports in the same season, in the same semester, that’s (going to) be the challenge,” Hawks swim coach Jason Craighead said. “The big challenge is keeping our swimmers motivated through the cold months of January, February, and March until our season actually gets going.”
For Craighead, safety comes first in and around the pool.
“Our main priority is kind of two things, safety and opportunity,” Craighead said. “We can’t have opportunity without safety. Right now, just with practice, we have some pretty extensive procedures in terms of limiting lane space. As an instructor and coach, I’ve had to increase my hours more so than I normally would to allow everybody an opportunity to participate, to train and just be physically active. So, we’re running multiple groups now. Instead of having practices of 30 athletes, we have two practices in two separate times, back-to-back, to allow everybody to be safe, social distance. Everybody had their own lane space, designated lane, designated pod training group. It’s very detailed, specific.”
Fanene noted that Chabot football will likely compete in a reorganized conference to avoid forcing teams to travel all the way to places like College of the Siskiyous in Weed. Six hours with a bunch of guys in a bus is not a good idea during a pandemic, so Chabot could be facing lower-division teams in the region, such as Monterey Peninsula, Cabrillo and San Jose, in a reduced, seven-game season. Full practice would start in January for a February to March season.
The biggest thing, Fanene points out, is the season won’t count against anyone’s athletic eligibility, so his players will be moving forward academically while keeping their eligibility, no matter how short the season turns out to be.
Leadership is key at Chabot.
“The coaches are the driving force here,” Fanene said. “I want to give a shout out to my AD (Drouin), to our dean (Kramer), and the college, of course. They’re very important, and they do a great job supporting athletics, but what our coaches have done has been just above and beyond what we’ve had to do. Just our workload. We’re still teaching classes online. We had to make that adjustment during the spring ... We were one of the first schools to get online when Covid started because we’re built for that; we’re built for online stuff.”
Fanene, who’s become an expert in all things relating to college athletics and the pandemic, said he put out his first plan for the football program on June 10, after working on it for months. Football, basketball and wrestling are in a different category as high-contact, or high-risk, sports, in terms of testing requirements and the inherent costs involved.
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