It has been almost two years since the Great Oak varsity baseball team won the Division 3 CIF Southern Section championship and nearly a full year since the program, like so many others due to the pandemic, has even competed in a competition-based game. When the season ended abruptly in 2020, Great Oak was 8-3 overall and 2-0 in league with wins over Temecula Valley and Murrieta Mesa.

With the recent decline in positive COVID-19 cases, there is much more hope now that a season will take place in the coming months. Things were looking grim as the surge in positive cases started in November 2020, which kept student athletes from training with their high school programs. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tier-based athletic return has not gone over well with coaches, parents and players from California, who say that the science behind keeping youth out of sports has no backing.

Great Oak High School head coach, Eric Morton, is seen holding up the programs CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship plaque in 2019, has high hopes for his squad once competition starts back up. Valley News/David Canales photo

California is one of seven remaining states that has yet to allow youth based athletic competition, and people are speaking up. A grassroots movement called #LetThemPlayCA has the attention of government leaders and is making strides in getting the right data to the right people in order to help student athletes return to their sport.

Cross country has sparked to the return to competition thus far, which is a purple tier sport, baseball and other sports are close behind as red tier sports. In fact, with the recent CIF Bylaw change (600-605) allowing student athletes to once again play for their club and high school teams, a change that has come and gone twice now in the past year, hopes are high that some sort of season will exist for all programs, despite the school year being more than halfway over.

Great Oak High School junior Michael Rodda commits verbally to play baseball at CBU in 2022, joining teammate Will Potter who graduates in 2021. Valley News/Rob Davis Photography

Despite this struggle, local student athletes are finding ways to get their reps, send their film to recruiters and sign with colleges. States that are open for play, like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, have been hotbeds for baseball players from the area. Most have been playing competitively enough with their travel teams to get noticed, and it is paying off for programs like Great Oak High School, who had four players commit recently, both verbally and in writing, to play at the next level. Will Potter (Cal Baptist – Class of 2021), Noah Ford (Simpson University – Class of 2021), Christian Smith (San Diego State – Class of 2022) and Michael Rodda (Cal Baptist – Class of 2022) will all be taking their talents to the next level. Rodda is a prime example of playing through the adversity, bursting on to the scene during the pandemic with a display of sheer athleticism recently in an Arizona tournament that landed him his verbal commitment to California Baptist University.

As for head coach Eric Morton, he stayed busy during the downtime without his players manicuring the fields, and when he got the greenlight, he opened the gates for his program at the campus for yoga sessions, conditioning and socially distanced meetings with his staff and players.

“I think the big positive right now is that we are allowed to work out on our campus following all of our safety protocols,” Morton said. “Right now, we go three days a week and it is great for our players to be able to see and interact with each other during this time. I know they really appreciate this time to get out of the house, away from the computer screens and exercise and practice in the sport they love.”

Great Oak High School’s Christian Smith, class of 2022, is a verbal commit to play at San Diego State. Valley News/Courtesy photo

The CIF baseball season is slated to start in mid-March, and programs all over are doing their best to get the work in needed to compete. With so much talk on the table about all sports getting the green light soon, schedules will most likely go into emergency shuffling mode soon enough, especially as athletic directors do their best to accommodate all the action at their sites.

There will be a lot to take in as sports make a triumphant return at the high school and youth level, but it has been almost a year in the making and it is almost certain families will adjust with ease. Players just want to play, families just want to watch and coaches, well they just want to do what they do best.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.