File photo Kerensa Uyeta-Buckley

The Hawks, pictured last season, returned to team workouts last week.

Before last week, the last time the Liberty Ranch Hawks had been able to work out on a football field together was July 14.

A ruling by the Galt Joint Union High School District plus guidance from Sacramento County Public Health allowed student-athletes to work out in modified fashion last week as they work to start the 2020-21 sports season.

With students still distance learning, being able to see familiar faces last week was a welcome sight for Liberty Ranch Athletic Director Anthony Linebaugh, who has been working with his staff to try to prepare for whatever level of working out his team is allowed to do.

“Our school board voted to bring back athletics in cohort groups (Nov. 5). The public health office had made changes 48 hours before that. The county went back to purple on Tuesday (Nov. 10). We made preparations for that, and we started Monday,” Linebaugh said on Nov. 12.

The team didn’t work out on Nov. 11 due to having the day off for Veterans Day, but Linebaugh said that over the first two days of practice, he estimated over 50 total people showed up.

Although the ultimate decision will be based on the Sacramento County Public Health’s guidelines, Linebaugh said that he expects sports to start on time.

“We as a staff are in close communication. It’s interesting to talk to other coaches and hear how they’re doing with all the challenges. The question I get asked most often is, ‘Are we going to have a season?’ Everything’s in place for that to happen,” said Linebaugh.

Currently, the first day of football practice is scheduled for Dec. 7, while cheerleading, cross-country and volleyball are scheduled to start Dec. 14.

The Hawks, who added two coaches to their staff this year, including Brian Dotson, who is in Liberty Ranch’s agricultural department, and Hawk alum Joe Perez, are putting their efforts into ensuring player safety, including sanitizing equipment and keeping players in the same pods during workouts.

“We have cohort groups all outside,” Linebaugh said, noting students wear masks and sanitize balls before and after use. “We have paths to follow so there is no cross-traffic.”

Just as the season was pushed back from August to January due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another change this season is the absence of 7 on 7s, which are a chance for teams to get an informal taste of competition before they open the season.

“Nothing like that is allowed,” Lineaugh said.

As area prep teams navigate the path to the scheduled start of their season (for the Hawks, it’s Jan. 8 at Bret Harte), they continue to do their best to keep up with the changing rules.

“One of the things that’s a challenge is that change has happened so fast. Sac County Health has just released their fifth updated guidelines. My point is, you have to continually keep up with what’s happening, so that’s challenging. We ask, how can we provide a great experience for every one of our students and still make sure we’re following all of the rules. There’s a lot more planning,” Linebaugh said last week.

Doing what they can to make sure kids have the best chance at continuing to work out is all worth it, however.

“The reward is seeing people in person,” Linebaugh said.