Whatever Tristan Hofmann imagined his football season at Half Moon Bay High School might look like, this wasn’t it.
The final game of the 2019 football season, a 42-14 loss to Serra High School in the first round of the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, was the last time the Cougars took the field. Now, more than a year removed from last season, Half Moon Bay High School’s star running back can only recall when his Cougars went 10-1 and dominated the PAL Ocean Division.
“Looking back at it, I never thought that might be my last year of high school football,” he said.
High school sports is just one of the countless aspects of life disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Hofmann, like thousands of young athletes around the country, had a high school staple taken away and it’s one he will never get back. While professional leagues and college sports are operating with varying degrees of success, high school sports around the country remain in a state of flux.
Student-athletes across multiple sports at Half Moon Bay High School say participating in organized competition isn’t about exercise or a boost to a college application. Local student-athletes say they’re missing a learning environment that fosters a sense of community.
For Lukas Meighen, a senior who played basketball and baseball throughout school, the time off has given him a chance to reflect on the importance of team camaraderie and the lasting relationships forged.
“You don’t realize it when you’re in it, but those guys are your family,” he said. “Sometimes, you see them more often than your family. Not having that has definitely sucked.”
High school athletes have had their hopes dashed in recent months. In California, winter sports, including basketball, baseball, wrestling and soccer, were pushed back until February and March. While they haven’t been officially canceled yet, the athletes are realistic about the chance to play in 2021.
Students told the Review they understand it’s difficult to justify sports when in-person learning isn’t possible. The workouts that were held left some feeling isolated and didn’t provide the same interaction athletes have come to expect. For example, basketball players didn’t share hoops or balls, and water polo players could only swim laps. Kai Guevara, a senior water polo player, said he saw teammates lose interest as the season kept getting delayed.
“With that being taken away and not knowing if it’s going to happen, it’s hard to be motivated for a lot of things,” Guevara said.
Lineman Preston Dimas is known for his passion on the football field. He said the possibility of not playing during his senior year, after he had accumulated so much skill and experience, has weighed on him.
“Sports becomes a part of your life and daily routine,” said Dimas, who will play at Chapman University next fall. “When I play football, my grades are better, my health is better, my mental state is better, and my relationships are better with everyone around me.”
He noted the pandemic has created a “backlog” for recruiting. With collegiate athletes allowed to keep their eligibility, schools are looking for smaller recruiting classes. This means juniors, like varsity girls basketball guard Abby Kennedy, must work different avenues to get exposure at colleges, from traveling to camps to boosting a social media profile.
“It’s been a struggle this spring, summer and fall to get noticed,” Kennedy said. “Playing in California is so limited, compared to other states.”
Some of the Cougars have been playing their respective sport nearly as long as they’ve been in school. Hofmann started playing football at age 5. Across multiple sports, athletes from the Coastside tend to play alongside the same teammates from middle school. Sierra Young and Genievene Belmonte compared the girls basketball team to a family. It’s a tight-knit group that spends a lot of time together on the road, on the court and in each other’s homes.
“I’ve always appreciated it, because (coach Antonio Veloso) and the team do so much for me,” Young said. “But not having it has definitely impacted me.”