As state officials continue to give the green light for resumption of play, high school sports like football, traditionally reserved for the fall, are suddenly in vogue.
There’s nothing like a little springtime gridiron action.
As crazy as it sounds, South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi will take it, looking forward to kicking off a shortened season as some sort of normalcy returns with the number of coronavirus cases significantly decreasing.
“It’s very unusual for everybody,” said Chi as he prepares his club to take to the road for a 7:00 p.m. game at La Cañada High Friday night.
Traditionally around this time of year the Tigers are looking forward to playing spring ball, with heavy emphasis on weight training in anticipation to summer workouts and eventually the fall season.
Chi and company can toss out those thoughts for now as South Pasadena looks forward to potentially playing a four-game Rio Hondo League season starting with the Spartans.
“Once this season is over, we’re right back into it,” said Chi, explaining his club will have little time off before a new campaign rolls around starting in late August. “We’re not far away from summer ball, so it’s kind of odd.”
For now, however, all the focus is on La Cañada. Following Friday night’s game, the Tigers will have a bye week before facing San Marino, Monrovia and, perhaps, Temple City “if they are able to put together a team by then,” noted Chi, saying the contest could be in doubt.
At this stage, the Tigers, who last saw action back in 2019 when they went 7-4 overall, including a 2-2 third place finish in Rio Hondo League play, will take anything they can get.
As a tune-up for this week’s season start, South Pasadena hosted Pasadena Poly last Friday night in a scrimmage. Just having live action against another opponent brought a sense of joy to Chi’s unit.
It doesn’t take much these days to prompt a smile from the coach after what teams like the Tigers have been forced to endure following more than a year without competition.
“I like the idea that the kids were out there playing football,” said Chi following the scrimmage. “It was a good experience for a lot of people – players, parents, school administrators, fans, everybody involved in helping bring the sport back. That was good to see.”
While having an opportunity to perform was important, Chi stressed plenty needs to be done to get his club ready for teams the Tigers will take on over the next month. “Our squad right now is pretty young,” he said. “It’s one thing playing against your own teammates, but when you’re going against opponents it’s another.”
The unit on the other side of the ball was “a little more bigger and more aggressive because they have a little more experience,” Chi said of Pasadena Poly, “making it somewhat difficult for us, but hopefully we’ll rebound and play better against La Cañada this week.”
Like other teams in the Rio Hondo League, the Tigers’ coach said the Spartans are scrambling to bring players back out on the field following the pandemic. “Just three weeks ago, we didn’t know if we were going to have a season or not,” said Chi. “There were questions if players were physically ready to go, to play football again. We’re all working to get them into football condition and be ready to compete.”
It has been a sprint to the finish getting his team prepared for what’s ahead with less than a month to put everything into place. “In a very small amount of time we’re trying to install our offense and defense,” Chi added. “We’re adjusting on the fly with a young group of guys. It has been a little bit challenging.”
Following Friday’s scrimmage, Chi emphasized the need for his team to focus on “now, the right here,” he said, adding, “The younger guys really didn’t know what to expect. They had a sense of what it was going to be like, but once the pads were on and the whistles were blowing, they had to hit, and things weren’t quite the same. I think they may have been a little flustered, how to adjust and make the necessary changes. We told them to focus on the things we do during practice and rely on that. Their emotions and the excitement of being out there got the best of them a little bit. Hopefully, this week they’ll focus on their assignments and collectively execute better.”
Safety protocols were of top concern as a limited number of fans, mostly family members, were in the stands for the scrimmage. Players were required to wear face coverings and drink from personal water bottles as a safeguard against the virus.
“It was good to see the parents get a chance to watch their kids play, especially the senior class” said Chi. “It was nice to see them out there supporting. I think they thought it was great to see their kids on the field.”
From getting into playing shape, memorizing plays, studying the game plan and all the facets necessary to be instep for a game, the Tigers, not unlike every other team in the league, will be facing a big challenge in order to get ready for Friday night lights.
“I’m proud of our players for the work they’ve put in,” said Chi. “A month ago, not knowing if we were going to have a season, we were preparing for the fall. We were looking at a lot of younger guys with all kinds of potential and thinking we’d have them in the weight room to get ready.”
The Tigers don’t have that luxury and have been forced to move up the timetable, asking young players to play right now. “We really can’t complain,” Chi said. “Every team is in the same boat. We can’t use that as an excuse. We want to put our kids in the best position to win football games so we have to rapidly get things done. We’re trying to do the best for all kids involved and want to provide them with a good experience. It’s a very unique year and I’m just glad to see the kids out there enjoying themselves, and hopefully they will win some ballgames.”