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Football Quarantine Impacts Shortened Spring Campaign
FB Anthem
Escalon Cougar players and coaches stand at attention during the playing of the National Anthem prior to their first game of the season on Friday night, March 19 in Oakdale. Football for all three Cougar teams – freshman, JV and varsity – has been put on hold due to positive COVID-19 tests among the squads. Marg Jackson/The Times

Cougar players, coaches and fans are hoping it wasn’t their only game of the season.

Escalon Unified School District officials are hoping the quarantine will do its job.

Following the first game of the season on Friday night, March 19 in Oakdale, several players from the varsity football team for Escalon tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a quarantine of the team and a couple of coaches who are also teachers within the school district.

The quarantine announcement for the varsity came on Friday morning, March 26; the JV and freshman teams had been quarantined a couple of days before, putting a hold on their contests for the next couple of weeks.

District Superintendent Ron Costa said that only three sports currently require regular COVID testing and those are three ‘high contact’ sports – football, rugby and water polo. Escalon only offers football, so the players at all three levels had been undergoing regular testing.

“The JV and freshmen had the first case and the county considers it an ‘outbreak’ if you have at least three people in a cohort testing positive,” Costa said.

Soon after the quarantine announcement for freshman and JV, word came in that some varsity players had also tested positive in their regular testing last week, after playing in their first game.

“The county told us we needed to quarantine that whole cohort, 10 days, no school, no practice, no football,” Costa said of the initial JV/frosh ‘outbreak’ and then also called for the varsity quarantine.

Between those teams, the superintendent noted, there are about 80 players impacted. Some of them had remained on independent study so not all were on campus, but Costa said they did do the contact tracing required following an outbreak.

“Whether it be football or any sport or a classroom, when we get positive students, we contact trace,” he explained.

With social distancing measures in place on campus, he said the majority of those impacted were the players, though a few other students were also sent home for the duration of the quarantine.

“We want to keep students and staff safe,” Costa said of cooperating with the county and conducting the contact tracing and implementing the quarantine.

Games originally scheduled for this week have been called off; the varsity hopes to get declared COVID free in time to prepare for and play a scheduled Friday, April 9 game at home against Ripon.

But, said Costa, only time will tell.

“They can’t play or practice until they get tested,” he said, adding that there won’t be any testing done this week because the teams are already quarantined.

Varsity head football coach Andrew Beam said it is a tough situation all the way around.

“You just feel for the kids,” he admitted. “It’s a very helpless feeling … we don’t get to come back to school or practice until April 5.”

That April 5 date would be the earliest date, depending on the outcome of future tests.

Beam added that even though there were positive tests this past week, the students were asymptomatic and were taken by surprise when they got the news that they would be quarantined.

He said it is a scramble right now to try and make sure the freshman team can get on the field to play a game this season and they are also trying to fill in gaps for the JV team. The varsity missed a game at home against Amador this past Friday, March 26 and also will not play this week’s game, originally scheduled at Kimball. Their best hope, Beam said, is to get a clean bill of health when the next round of tests is administered, with the goal of being cleared to play on April 9.

“That would be at home against Ripon so we hope that’s a big motivator,” he said of students staying in quarantine and following all guidelines. “They’ve showed a lot of perseverance so far; we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Meanwhile, Costa said the volleyball team, which cleared COVID tests last week, is able to practice and spring sports such as baseball and softball can begin their outdoor seasons as well.

And ultimately, whether sports seasons are put on hold, Costa said the overall goal for the district remains the same.

“Bottom line, we’re here to educate kids,” he said.