After a year of high school athletics being left on hold, Bell and Monrovia High are preparing for an upcoming loaded athletic schedule.
By Jordan Green
With vaccinations beginning to be distributed at a quicker pace across L.A. County, and the case rates swiftly declining, high school sports in Southern California are officially back in full effect.
It seems like an objective truth that this return to normalcy is much needed after a whole year of student-athletes not being able to compete. Monrovia High Athletic Director Randall Bell knows what the value of a return means to not only the school but also for the community — and his personal joy is as high as it has ever been in his 22 years at the helm.
“The excitement is real,” Bell said emphatically. “It’s been bottled up for some time. And that excitement may be a little too intense since everything is picking up at such a quick pace. But our campus loves how active everything is getting. It seems like everyone is excited about it.”
Currently, football is one of the sports that is in the midst of a return. After several weeks of practice and weight training, almost every football team in the San Gabriel Valley has already played their season opener.
The Wildcats played Northview High School at Covina District Field in their first game of the season. Monrovia won the contest 42-14, mainly thanks to the play of junior transfer quarterback Noah Rodriguez who threw for 242 yards and scored a total of six touchdowns.
The first play of the game was a 67-yard touchdown pass from Rodriguez to receiver Kai Taylor. Bell, who was in the stands, cheered loudly as he always does. Yet, during that moment of celebration, he could not help but notice the absence of Monrovia’s student body.
“The normal buzz our staff is used to seeing and hearing during Friday’s football games isn’t here, as only immediate household members are able to attend games currently,” Bell said. “And nobody is on campus walking the hallways and talking about the games and the team. That part is greatly missed.”
Hope remains that students will soon be able to return to the stands in due time. Yet, Bell has learned during this strenuous year to take what he and his department can get and celebrate all victories — the big and small ones.
While events were not taking place over the 2020 school year, Bell remained busy during the hiatus. Although the initial phase of the lockdown saw little need for athletic supervisors, over the summer Bell and the athletic department had to commit to countless hours of research, looking for updates on county guidelines so they can inform their coaches on the potential likelihood of any athletic events returning.
“We essentially lived on the county’s Department of Public Health, constantly looking for updates and direction,” Bell said. “Those updates always seemed to be given sparsely over time. We understood that a lot went behind those decisions, as all counties had their own covid reality. But it grew incredibly frustrating on our end. Communication was always the key.”
What resulted was a process where student-athletes were essentially being jerked around — believing that progress was made thanks to teams finally training together, yet only to be demoralized when finding out that their season remained delayed. Bell shared those same sentiments with players throughout the entirety of last year and the beginning of this year, yet he can now look back and realize the wait was worth the reward.
This week for MHS was the busiest athletic week the campus has ever experienced. Not only will the football team host their first home game on Friday night, but spring sports such as softball and baseball saw their first action of their seasons this week. With that, soccer — normally a fall sport — played their season opener on Thursday as well.
Also, with Glendora High and Damien High playing their basketball season openers on an outside court this week, perhaps normally played indoor sports all across L.A. County will also begin their seasons under those same stipulations. If so, the Wildcats may see a return to sports such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling sooner rather than later.
“I am as maxed out now as I have ever been before,” Bell admitted. “The normal stuff we deal with, like the buses and game schedules, is coming at us a mile a minute. And that’s not even discussing the new protocols we need to now follow. And over this process, we grew so used to hoping for at least a little activity and then being disappointed. But now, to have everything plummet on our laps so fast, it’s been quite a roller coaster.”
Despite the fact that Bell has never been busier, it is the joy in his work that keeps him motivated to keep doing all that he can do for student-athletes.
As he described, that joy is both “selfish and unselfish.” His selfishness is based on his love for watching his students compete. It is the reason he admires his job; cheering them on from the sidelines and recognizing the incredible fire that MHS’ athletes have while they compete.
The unselfishness comes from his happiness for the kids themselves. As both a teacher and athletic director, Bell’s passion ultimately lies within the development of young men and women. He has the pleasure to see that done through the classroom and the field. Yet, it is athletics that provides that much-needed spark for several student’s educational experiences. For that component to finally be back, Bell could not be more thrilled for his student body.
“I’m just overjoyed for them. To finally have this platform open to them again, I know it’s gonna help a lot of kids,” he said. “It’s unconventional of course, with all the masks and rule changes and distancing. But it’s been a long wait for them to return, and I know our student-athletes believe those things are worth accepting if it means competing again. And it’s a pleasure to watch them play, and to watch things open up again.”