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The Dead Period
Oakdale Highs football stadium, The Corral, is an abandoned wasteland these days as the football team works through Sac-Joaquin Section mandated dead period days. Fall programs are only allowed weightlifting and conditioning practices from July 18 to Aug. 7. - photo by Photo illustration by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

Sac-Joaquin Section Bylaw 511.6 isn’t nearly as lifeless and eerie as the image of a cow skull resting on the artificial turf at The Corral, but it certainly gets the point across.
To quote the bylaw: “During a Sac-Joaquin Section dead period, no member of the coaching staff (paid or volunteer) may have any contact with his/her athletes and use the sports equipment for their given sport.”
The bylaw goes on to add weight training and conditioning as the only accepted activities coaches can organize during a July 18 to Aug. 7 dead period for the fall season.
For sports like football, tennis, volleyball and soccer, the dead period takes away nets, pads and balls, but allows each squad to continue the collective growth of their programs. Cross country — which is basically another way of saying conditioning — isn’t limited at all, while golf teams across the section are left to the individual junior tournaments their players would likely be competing in anyway. Winter (Oct. 17 to Nov. 6) and Spring (Jan. 16 to Feb. 5) dead periods also exist, but with athletes often participating in multiple sports, the Fall dead period limits programs the most.
Aside from 7-on-7 scrimmages and team camps, Oakdale High football coach Trent Merzon has hosted weight training and conditioning year-round, but gave his players a week off during the dead period. He said some players, like incoming junior Bastian Jimenez, pulled teammates together for workouts during this week off as well.
“The dark period is there for a good reason, to give kids a break going into the heavy part of the season,” Merzon said. “We do weightlifting and conditioning, which is what you do to get stronger and faster before the season. When you go to practice you get more skilled, but you get stronger and faster with weightlifting and conditioning.”
Merzon will get the season going with mandatory conditioning days starting Aug. 8, the first day they are allowed. School itself opens on Wednesday, Aug. 10. The Mustangs will practice heavily until pre-season scrimmages with former state champion Modesto Christian on Aug. 20 and perennial Division I juggernaut St. Mary’s on Aug. 25.
Oakdale’s boys soccer program has also stayed busy this summer, and currently avoids the dead period lull with conditioning four days a week under the direction of junior varsity coach Luis Rojas. The squad alternates between stair climbing and field exercises, all organized to prepare players for a grueling pace of contests in the SJS.
“We work in particular moves and dynamic exercises that they will be able to use in games,” coach Rojas said on Monday. “It all depends on the kids and what they put into it, but they all have great attitudes and are willing to work.”
Rojas said despite some missing seniors who are on vacation, the program sees around 35 participants during these summer conditioning practices. The team usually exercises for two hours each session. He said many players on the team also practice and play with club programs year-round, which allows the coaches to focus on younger players that are new to a competitive program.
“Obviously the boys at Oakdale High have had a lot of success in the past,” Rojas said. “We should be able to put these (junior varsity and varsity) teams together to compete at a high level.”
Soccer kicks off its first official practices the same day that volleyball returns to the court for a day of conditioning on Aug. 8. Between a gymnasium under construction and the SJS mandated dead period, OHS volleyball is in the middle of a 25-day lapse in action since the Oakdale High Summer Volleyball Camp ended on July 14.
The camp featured valuable mentoring from former U.S. Olympians Kim Oden and Ruth Lawanson, the current head coach of the University of Nevada, Reno volleyball team.
“About five to six years ago I happened to connect with Ruth Lawanson, and this was her third time coming to our gym,” Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said. “I think it was great, especially because her friend Kim Oden was able to specifically work with my team and really key on some important skills we needed, not just individual skills.”
The OHS girls golf team is perhaps the most limited of any program, as coach Lee McGee said his team is left to their own individual participation in junior tournaments this time of the year. The section’s dead period exceptions of conditioning and weightlifting don’t exactly help on the links.
“In the golf programs in the past, we have not had a lot of conditioning, but rather getting out and playing,” coach McGee said. “Having enough girls to play and choose the top six golfers is what’s important. We are just looking forward to getting the season started and seeing how we can do.”
Oakdale’s girls tennis program has seen scattered summer workouts with coach Judy Vejar, who said the team is looking forward to intense first practices when the school year begins.
The Water Polo program stayed busy throughout the summer with participation in the Sonora/Oakdale (SOAK) program that qualified three teams to Junior Olympic tournaments that begin July 30. With the section’s dead period allowance for conditioning, Oakdale cross country coach Guy Fowler can basically practice his team all summer without a hiccup. Since school was out, Oakdale has spent three to four days a week running for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Fowler said sometimes he will send the team on a mile, and other times work through drills to improve running form and proper technique though the sessions are not mandatory.
Fowler said he gave the team a two-week respite after its latest practice on July 21. The break will mirror the SJS dead period, which doesn’t seem to apply to cross country at all.
“I don’t know who comes up with these things,” Fowler said on Sunday. “Football can do weight training and conditioning, but conditioning is our sport.
“It doesn’t make any sense — but hey — I’m not in charge of the section.”