May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

New state guidelines allow for return of more high school sports, including football

After months of waiting and anticipation, many high school athletes in Orange County and throughout the state, including football players, finally got some good news Friday.

Governor Gavin Newsom said Friday the California Department of Public Health is adjusting its guidelines to allow more high school sports to return if a county’s criteria on the coronavirus pandemic are met.

The announcement made during the governor’s press conference allows some teams to begin competition as early as Monday. Girls tennis can have dual matches starting on Monday, Feb. 22, CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod said at a press conference Friday. Boys and girls water polo could start as early as Friday, Feb. 26, he added.

Cross country is the only high school sport currently allowed to have competition.

If criteria is met, football can begin full practices on Friday, Feb. 26 and teams can play a scrimmage on Saturday, March 6 and have their first full games as early as Thursday, March 11,Wigod said. Games could also be held on Friday, March 12 and Saturday, March 13. However, a scrimmage is an option, not a requirement, he said.

It will be up to each individual district and school to determine whether to field the teams.

In order for teams to practices and play games, the county the school is in must have an adjusted coronavirus case rate that is equal to or lower to 14 per 100,000 residents.

Coronavirus cases have been trending lower in recent weeks, making it possible for more sports to return and Orange County is close to the 14 minimum threshold. Several agencies are tracking the rates and have different numbers, one as low as 16.

Wigod on Friday said the CIF is using figures provided by the state government which lists the current case rate as 20.7 for Orange County. The last figure was released on Tuesday and Wigod said he expects that number to drop significantly by next week.

“The key number will be Feb. 23 of next week where if they fall at 14 or below, they will obviously be able to implement these measures that we released this afternoon,” he said.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Mark Cunningham, Irvine Unified Athletic Director. “Obviously, it’s going to take quite a bit of planning. We have to figure out how we’re going to get all these kids tested 24 hours before they participate as far as football and water polo are concerned.”

“Whatever the close-contact sports are, they have to get tested before (being allowed to compete).”

There are a number of safety guidelines that will have to be followed and there will be weekly testing provided from the state for contact sports such as football, rugby and water polo, Newsom said. In addition, athletes will have to sign a consent form to participate in sports.

Cunningham said his question is what will happen if the county average per 100,000 residents reaches over 14.

“If we’re under, and we’re good to go and the rate goes above 14, then what happens?” Cunningham said.

“But it’s really, really positive news,” he said. “I think we’re the last state to open up and I think the guidelines they presented are doable, especially getting kids out on the field and on the court. That’s the main thing and looks like what’s going to happen.”

The announcement is expected to lead the start of other sports.

Cunningham said that other outdoor sports including baseball and softball should be able to start as scheduled in March.

CIF officials confirmed Friday that baseball and softball will start on Friday, March 19. Track and field can start on Saturday, March 20. In addition, boys and girls soccer can start on Saturday, Feb. 27 and boys and girls lacrosse on Friday, March 12. Boys tennis can begin on Monday, March 1. Boys and girls swimming will begin on Friday, March 13 and boys and girls golf on Monday, March 20.

Cunningham said district officials in Irvine will be reviewing the new guidelines.

“Lots of questions but positively a wonderful announcement,” he said.

Corona del Mar football coach Dan O’Shea added:

“Phenomenal news and I could not be more happy for the kids and families who have been so patient after 11 plus months.”

Cunningham, who is also an assistant football coach at CdM, said he believes football can start as scheduled in the middle of March if full practices begin on Friday, Feb. 26. CIF officials are calling for an abbreviated season lasting through the middle of April without playoffs.

“You could have your first game 14 days later,” Cunningham said. “You have to have 14 days before the first game. I’m just really, really happy for the seniors.”

State officials did not address the status of indoor sports including basketball, indoor volleyball and wrestling but if case numbers continue to trend lower, it’s likely that could lead to the sports starting up. Those sports are currently in the yellow tier.

High school sports came to a hault in the middle of last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

High school sports were supposed to start in August, but delayed until January and then postponed again.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, counties have been in tiers and Southern California is currently in the most restricive purple tier. Cross country was given the OK to begin earlier this month by the California Department of Public Health and the CIF.

Last month, CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod announced that post-season championships were being cancelled, but he was optimistic that teams, including football squads, could have an abbreviated regular season starting in March and running through April.

A number of coaches associations have been meeting with Governor Newsom in recent weeks and the Let Them Play parents group has been advocating with state officials for the safe return of sports.

In addition, the National Federation of State High School Associations recently changed its guidelines regarding the risk of high school athletes competing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the observations, the advisory group said that “prevailing community infection rates appear to be the strongest predictor for high school athletes being infected and proven cases of direct transmission of coronavirus in the athletic setting remain relatively rare.”

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com