SELMA - Football will not be played at the youth level this year in Selma.

Last week, the Selma Grizzlie and the Selma Bandits announced that their seasons had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each team made their announcements on its Facebook page.

“It was extremely difficult,” Grizzlie president Joe Ward said. “A lot of teams already called it a season. Our league [Central Valley Alliance Football] was already canceled for two months so certain teams in our league were still trying to hold out and possibly play a three-team tournament, but in the end, it was not going to happen.”

Ward added that the cancellation will impact around 130 kids including girls who signed up for cheerleading. The age range for the Grizzlie is 5 to 12 year old kids.

Ward coaches the 8-9 year old team and is also a coach for Selma Little League, which was another local youth sports organization that canceled its season. Selma Little League canceled its season on June 22. Ward also had a son who was entering his fifth year playing for the team.

In June, Ward said he tested positive for the virus after a weekly test at work and his results came back three days after his test. He works at the Lake Post acute nursing home in Visalia.

Ward was asymptomatic and was glad to not potentially spread the virus to kids on his team and their families, as training camp would’ve taken place around that time.

“I was like ‘Oh man, that would’ve been three practices that I would’ve been with the kids,’” Ward said.

When a season was looking uncertain, Bandits president Tony Valenzula said they cut off registration after eight boys were signed up. Valenzula added that 70 girls were registered for cheerleading. The age range for the Bandits is seven to 14 years old. Valenzula said everybody that signed up for football or cheerleading were refunded.

“How are they going to hit each other and take a chance on somebody getting sick?,” Valenzula said. “I figured, we better wait and try again next year. This will be our second year not playing here in Selma.”

The Bandits didn’t play at home last year due to the reconstruction of Staley Stadium. They played on the road for every game. Valenzula said his team has to pay to use the facility, which was another factor that caused a canceled season.

“It wouldn’t be worth it for us because we have to pay for us to play at the high school,” Valenzula said. “Unless, we had a full season, it wouldn’t benefit us at all because whatever money we raised has to go to the use of the facility.”

Ward and Valenzula said their teams were going to wait for the CIF’s decision on fall sports, but with high school sports looking unlikely to take place prior to their announcements, they decided that last week was the right time to cancel their seasons. The CIF announced on Monday that fall sports will be delayed to December and January.

Another reason Ward held back on playing was the ability to refund registration fees that are typically used on equipment and insurance.

“The registration covers helmet certification and our insurance for the season is $1,600,” Ward said. “We use that money for helmet certification and we send it off for our insurance. Then, we’ll fundraise for the jerseys, but we were stuck with ‘Are we going to spend money that’s not ours?’ We would’ve paid for insurance, we would’ve paid for our helmet certification that parents gave us. When they came for their money, there wouldn’t be any money because we spent it.”

The pandemic has affected other youth sports leagues to cancel its seasons such as the Central Valley Recreational Swim League, Selma Babe Ruth, and Kingsburg Youth Baseball organizations - Kingsburg Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth.

“Just be ready for next year, that’s all I could tell them,” Valenzula said.

Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at (559) 583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @TheJerryMartin. 

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