After months of anticipation, the California Department of Public Health has finally released its guidance and a possible start date for competition of youth and high school sports.
The good news is that some sports can take place this academic school year even as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the state.
“I’m burned out from the ups and down. There have been so many starts and stops and dates and postponements…. I wish we could just make a decision,” Hilmar High School football head coach Frank Marques said. “We’re trying to be as positive as possible but it’s pretty frustrating.”
Based on the state’s color-tiered reopening plan, CDPH’s updated guidelines revealed on Dec. 14 that outdoor low-contact sports such as cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field may be permitted in counties that remain in the most restrictive purple tier.
Inter-team competitions may begin Jan. 25, 021, though the date will be reassessed on Jan. 4. This guidance also applies to adult recreational sports, community-sponsored programs and private clubs and leagues.
Counties promoted to the less-restrictive red tier may begin outdoor moderate-contact sports. Included are baseball, softball and cheerleading.
Outdoor high-contact sports such as football, soccer and water polo along with indoor low-contact sports like volleyball fall under the orange tier. Indoor moderate- and high-contact sports — basketball, wrestling, martial arts — are in the yellow tier.
Under CDPH’s current guidelines, high-contact sports like football and basketball appear to be long shots to take place this academic school year.
“The guidelines as presented by the CDPH are not what was recommended by the CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee; that request was to have all sports conducted in the red tier,” Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Michael Garrison stated. “The CIF will continue to advocate with the CDPH with the hopes for a little more leniency to allow more of our sports to be played. We are asking for the chance to be able, to play all of our sports, and I assure you that we will continue to advocate for that cause.”
“I don’t see how there’s going to be a football season…the math is not working out as the current situation stands,” Marques said.
Garrison announced in a memo released to media that the playoffs for “Season 1” high school sports football, girls volleyball and water polo have been cancelled.
The SJS is leaving the possibility open for “bowl games” to be held for girls volleyball and water polo on March 20 and football on April 16-17. There may still be a postseason for cross country, but the section plans to evaluate this in mid/late January. The Season 2 sports schedule remains unchanged.
“We are of the belief that the chance to play more sports contests outweighs the possibility for a postseason,” Garrison stated in the memo. “With the guarantee that Season 1 will be starting late, the SJS will forego a traditional postseason to allow all our schools a chance to participate in more contests.”
Back in July, the California Interscholastic Federation pushed its traditional fall sports schedule to the winter, squeezing three seasons worth of athletics into two. The hope was to hold first practices for football on Dec. 7 and kick off the regular season on Jan. 8.
“If it’s at all possible for Hilmar to play football I’m confident our principle and superintendent will make it happen,” Marques said. “I’m hoping there’s a glimmer of hope but the window keeps getting smaller and smaller.”
Limited spectators are permitted only at youth-level practices and games. School districts and local health departments may have stricter rules for high school contests.
As for competitions, teams are forbidden to participate in out-of-state events. Most games may only involve two teams from the same county or bordering counties that are in the same tier. Events involving three or more teams are not permitted in California, though exceptions could be made by local health departments for outdoor low-contact sports.
Athletes are still allowed to meet with their youth, adult and school teams for physical conditioning and skill-building drills as long as they are outdoors and practicing social distancing.
Journal reporter Frankie Tovar contributed to this report.