As the new year starts and the old one thankfully has passed into the history books, here’s a look at what and when to watch for the return of high school sports in California. It figures to be a difficult first two months with surging cases of COVID-19, but at some point there will be competitions in some sports and thanks to vaccines most people hopefully by the summer will be getting back to more normal routines.
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FOR THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH GUIDELINES FOR YOUTH SPORTS (AS OF DEC. 7), CLICK HERE.
The California Department of Public Health will announce a reassessment of its guidelines that were given in early December based on all of the numbers relating to transmission of COVID-19. Since those guidelines were provided in early December, the pandemic has surged to its worst levels in the state so far in all metrics, including hospitalizations, death and ICU bed capacity. It probably will get even worse by the middle of January as some of the millions of Californians who traveled and gathered with family and friends for the holidays despite being told to stay at home will get sick. People involved in high school sports and its return should brace for some bad news.
This is an anticipated date for many in Southern California as the CIF Southern Section, the state’s largest high school sports section by far, will provide an update on its fall sports playoffs. At least one section, the Sac-Joaquin, already has said it will not conduct section playoffs in football and other fall sports that have been delayed into the new year. Section commissioner Mike Garrison explained that the goal is always to provide as many games as possible to as many student-athletes as possible. Removing the section playoffs may give all of the leagues more flexibility to complete their schedules. The Sac-Joaquin Section, however, did leave open the possibility of league champions and other top teams being able to play in an extra postseason game or “bowl” game. The two main Bay Area sections, the North Coast and Central Coast, indicated in December they would wait to see what happens with the Jan. 4 CDPH update before making any changes to its calendars. San Diego also was still in a wait-and-see mode when the holiday break began.
Politics shouldn’t play a role in reopening schools and competing in high school sports, but it does and on this day we’re listing it as a date to watch since a new president is going to be sworn in. So far, the election of 2020 hasn’t caused anything more than a smattering of violence but it is something to be concerned about. January 6 when the election is going to be certified in Congress is another important date. In checking the profiles of those who have screamed the loudest about states that have played high school sports so far or who have screamed the loudest regarding the governor, a vast majority of them are people that scream the most about voter fraud and other Republican issues. Who cares what other Republican-led states do? California is not one of them and the screamers are welcome to keep trying to win elections to run California similarly. If one were to check the populations of the states around the country that have played high school sports compared to the ones that haven’t, it’s about 50-50 and that’s right about at what everything else breaks in the United States.
At the current time, this is the earliest date in which competitions can be allowed in California high school sports. That date probably will get pushed back at least three weeks, possibly longer, by state public health officials. There’s just no getting around all of the hospitals in many parts of the state as the new year comes in sitting in surge capacity situations.
The state of California is expected to launch a plan to aid in school districts in a return to in-person learning. That $2 billion proposal was announced earlier this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom and would begin with the youngest students from kindergarten to second grade. Some school districts in the state want to see all of their students back in the classroom before high school sports can resume. Others do not. The state’s biggest school districts to watch as they deal with eventual reopening are in Los Angeles and San Diego. Some others, particularly the William S. Hart High School District in Santa Clarita, have proven to be out in front of what’s going to happen and also should be monitored.
This is another date being used by the massive CIF Southern Section and is the day when the section has stated that fall sports & football for the 2020-21 school year would have to be cancelled if teams have not yet begun to practice. That date, however, can always be altered and it probably would if schools could play five or six games in March into the first three weeks of April in order to give their kids the ability to have even one-half of a normal season. There have been reports in the media that most football coaches in particular do not want to see their seasons extend so much into the spring that it would have huge impacts on their schedules for the 2021-22 school year.
Some of the CIF sections are still listing this date as for the start of boys and girls basketball practices. That’s a date that probably will get pushed back not just because of the current surge of Coronavirus infections, but also because the CDPH placed basketball as a sport that could only be played in the yellow tier. The CIF and other leaders are trying to get sports moved into less restrictive tiers (orange or red) and it would seem that such a move for basketball would have to happen for there to be a season in 2020-21. Most teams also still have 25 to 28 games on their schedules and that is another number that likely will change, perhaps to almost all league games only.
This is a date seen for the start of baseball and softball practices. Those sports can be played in California in the red tier, which is just the first one down from purple (which is the highest tier). It’s therefore much more likely that if the current surge is waning by early March and a lot of more people are vaccinated as well, then baseball and softball may start on time and a lot of the schedules may not have to change much, either.
This would mark the one-year anniversary of that Wednesday night when the sports world abruptly shut down as the virus was beginning to spread rapidly. Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, which was scheduled to host the CIF state basketball championships just two days later, was the front and center on that day as a scheduled NBA matchup between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans was postponed and also became the last regular season NBA game before the shutdown. The very next morning, to no one’s surprise, the CIF announced it was cancelling the state basketball championships. Some public health officials at the time said it would be a year or a year and half for a vaccine to be developed. It thankfully didn’t take nearly that long.
Every week from January to June
The state will be updating its county map showing the various tiers that each county is in at least once per week over the rest of the pandemic. If people want to follow along as schools reopen and sports resume, keep checking on the status of those counties. Just this week, Humboldt County moved from purple to red, making it just four counties that were not purple. We’d expect some other northern counties to turn red from purple in the coming weeks. The more red and the more orange that are showing on that map, then the closer we’ll get to all of the sports being allowed to restart.
All of the calendars at the section and state level have all sports for the 2020-21 school year completed by the end of June. As with many governments and business, the fiscal year also starts on July 1. If everything with the virus has been reduced, let’s hope that the 2021-22 calendar can start on time. That may be the real new year’s to celebrate.