Update on the upcoming Branson sports season

By Cooper Tenney


Branson sports are scheduled to start on Dec. 7, dependent on a smooth academic reopening in light of COVID-19 and associated protocols.

COVID-19 concerns have led to the elimination of the fall athletic season, a shift of fall sports to the winter, and a shift of winter sports to the spring. Winter sports will be played simultaneously with spring sports, so athletes will have to either choose between sports or play two sports at the same time. Marin County Athletic League will allow athletes to play two sports in one season for the first time ever so that players can have the option to play one or two sports.

“We’re planning to start our winter sports program officially on Dec. 7. … Knowing that, if in the next few weeks, we feel comfortable that students and staff can negotiate their way around campus and stay safe, we might start having practices earlier than that,” Rich Mazzola, co-director of athletics, said. “Some complications come along with adding on the athletic program, so we need to make sure that we are running the academic program right before we add on an extra set of complications.” 

Veronica Bosque, co-director of athletics, said, “The focus [after a smooth academic reopening] is really on this department getting as many kids out and playing as safely as possible.”

The spring athletic season is set to start on March 15. It will be jam-packed with both spring sports and winter sports. 

If an athlete would like to play two sports in a single season, “students will have to designate one sport as their primary sport and the other as their secondary sport,” Mazzola said. “If two games happen on the same day, students would go to their primary sport’s game.”

While the plan is to begin sports as soon as it is feasible, the road to that outcome is bumpy and full of complications. Restrictions, such as facility access and COVID-19 protocols, impede the path to Branson athletics this year.

“College of Marin is closed for now, but that’s not a permanent decision,” Bosque said.  “They are working on incorporating their own safety protocols that will hopefully enable us to use their facilities this school year. If COM is still closed when we resume sports activities, all teams will need to stay at Branson.”

Besides access limitations, health precautions must be implemented for sports to begin.

“There are rules that the county has provided about indoor activities … you can do individual drills at least six-feet apart — inside. The team would have to stop short of doing scrimmages because you don’t have enough space on the court [for basketball and volleyball],” Bosque said.

Because it is next to impossible to keep grades together when forming cohorts on sports teams, there will be a second batch of cohorts created for each team.

“When we are comfortable with layering on another set of cohorts, sports will be allowed,” Mazzola said.

Although sports teams will likely get the OK to practice, games will not be allowed for the next couple of months.

“There is a long way to go as far as us making progress … and feeling secure about kids participating in contact sports,” Mazzola said. “It would be foolish of us to think that if the professional and college levels are having difficulty, that we, given our resources, would be able to solve these problems easily. [That said,] there are plans afoot to start a competitive athletic season.”

Another issue to consider is that there may not be enough players available to field some of the freshman and junior varsity teams, due to players delegating a primary sport over another. With a limited number of players, varsity teams will be filled first, then lower-level teams.

“The priority is to keep as many higher-level teams as possible … If there aren’t enough players to field two teams, everyone will be on varsity,” said Bosque.

“Let’s keep making sure that we are vigilant and adhere to the protocols,” Mazzola said when asked if he had any final messages for the community. “Make sure that we are listening to the data and science that’s out there so that we can collectively team up and make progress to keep Branson happy, healthy, and safe. Horns up, masks up!”

While this year has been a challenge for everyone at Branson, there are also positive aspects that exist in the face of adversity.

“We are walking into a season of sports that has more obstacles than I have ever seen before. As we leap over hurdles cleanly or stumble over them, we’re going to learn from it. In that sense, it is a year of great opportunity,” Mazzola said.

In addition to Branson volleyball this winter, Logan Tusher, a freshman, is playing club volleyball. Because of the unprecedented times, she sees a silver lining.

“Due to COVID reasons, we can’t practice as much as we would like to. … It’s actually easier [this year] because practice isn’t as demanding, and coaches really understand. …If we do have a season, it’s going to be awesome!” Tusher said.

Sports at Branson also provide a social outlet for student-athletes. While Sam Yolles, a senior and a captain of the cross-country team, is excited about the actual practices and competitions, he is also happy to be with his team.

“I’m just looking forward to spending time with my teammates,” Yolles said.