It remains very much up in the air whether there will be very many high school football games in California that will get scheduled for March and April, but with the downward trends in the pandemic it’s still possible to speculate about teams from adjoining counties that at some point might be able to play each other. With no playoffs for either the state or sections in the CIF, here’s a look at games that might be able to be played and some possible games we’d be wishing for involving schools from adjoining counties.
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According to current guidelines by the California Department of Public Health, high school football can only be played when a county reaches the orange tier in the state’s four-tiered system it is using for reopening all segments of the economy. It’s doubtful that football will be able to be played in very many locales unless the state relaxes its guidelines and lets it be played in the red or purple tiers. A total of 50 of 54 counties in the state as of the beginning of this week are in the purple tier (or most restrictive).
For purposes of this post, it’s also important to note that “adjoining counties” (by our interpretation) needs to have borders physically touching each other. That means that even though Riverside County and L.A. County are very close to each other they do not share a border at any location. It also has been confirmed by CIF officials that schools from adjoining counties but from different CIF sections (best example: Orange County in the CIF Southern Section and San Diego County obviously in CIF San Diego Section) can set up contests between each other as long as both counties and the sports involved are in the same, approved tier.
It doesn’t look like there is a mileage limit for the “adjoining counties” part of the guidelines, either, although a 120-mile general travel advisory by the CDPH is still active. While some schools not very far apart (example: Diamond Bar compared to Corona) couldn’t play due to this rule according to this interpretation, while at the same time it would be possible for Lodi and Palo Alto, which are 95 miles apart, to play since San Joaquin County (where Lodi is) actually touches Santa Clara County (Palo Alto) in one corner.
The CDPH confirmed in an email to Cal-Hi Sports that counties must have a shared border under the current guidelines for two schools within a county to compete against each other. The CDPH also repeated its travel advisory: “Californians should remain local (not traveling more than 120 miles from their home or other place of residence) and avoid non-essential travel. Travelers from other states or countries entering into California for tourism and recreation are strongly discouraged.”
Brian Seymour of the CIF state office said there is no CIF interpretation of the “adjoining counties” travel guidelines. He said the CIF advices its schools to contact its local county health departments to get an approval for any proposed games between schools from different counties that might be questionable.
And while our interpretation and those of officials we contacted from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF North Coast Section are the same, Seymour’s guidance that schools contact local county health departments should certainly be heeded. That was made evident on Monday when the Fresno County Department of Health told organizers of the upcoming Clovis Invitational cross country meet that schools could only be invited from the bordering counties of Madera, Tulare and Kings counties. There was no permission given for schools from other counties that also border Fresno County (particularly Merced County).
School districts themselves — or the corresponding authority for private schools — also have the final determination about its athletic schedules resuming. They are allowed by the state to have more strict guidelines.
Despite not being 100 percent sure about who can play who with the “adjoining counties” rule, we’ll go through many of the top football teams in the list below that were projected to be among the best in the state for the 2020-21 school year and look at the county map of the state to mention the various possible contests. It’s a wish list on our part for sure and we don’t know if very many schools will even have much of an option to play any opponents beyond those from their leagues. These have been listed in alphabetical order.
(Note: These county by county variations also would apply to all sports, not just football.)
Alemany (Mission Hills)
The Warriors and all of their rivals from the Mission League (Chaminade, Gardena Serra, Loyola, Bishop Amat, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame) are all in hard-hit L.A. County. We assume it’s going to be tough for L.A. Unified and the CIF L.A. City Section to be able to play at all, but the private schools could be different. Alemany should have tough competition within its league, but also could on paper play teams from Orange County or Ventura County.
Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa)
The Cardinals have always looked to strengthen their schedule. The 2019 CIF D3-AA state champions, however, will have a hard time doing that. Sonoma County doesn’t border another county with a similar program, other than Marin County with Marin Catholic of Kentfield. The others are Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties.
League games will be a priority for schools if and when they are allowed to play, but for the Huskies they’ve been so dominating in their Big VIII League that they probably should try to get creative and set up at least one game out across the Riverside County line in Orange County. Servite (Anaheim) was a projected top five team for 2020 and it’s not that far between those schools along the 91 freeway corridor. Centennial already was supposed to play Mater Dei as well.
Last year’s CIF D1-AA state champs and the projected top team in the CIF Central Section once again for 2020 is in a tough spot based on the county map. As a Fresno County school, the Grizzlies can still play their opponents in the Tri-River Athletic Conference (Clovis, Buchanan, Clovis West, etc.) but their only other possible foes can be from Kings County, Tulare County, Inyo County, Mono County, Madera County and Merced County. There just isn’t any team close to them in any of those places.
Cosumnes Oaks (Elk Grove)
This is the up-and-coming program in the Sacramento area that was scheduled to play national powerhouse Mater Dei of Santa Ana. That game can no longer take place, but we hope the Wolfpack can remain creative with their schedule and can arrange matchups outside of their league opponents. They could look south toward San Joaquin County where both St. Mary’s (Stockton) and Lincoln (Stockton) have leading players coming back.
De La Salle (Concord)
Looking to the east from where the school campus sits in Contra Costa County, you can see that the county touches both San Joaquin and Sacramento counties. That means it would still be possible for the Spartans to play St. Mary’s of Stockton (which they’ve played many times) and Folsom (Sacramento County). The DLS-Folsom matchup was huge in 2018, the two played again in 2019 and were scheduled to play again in 2020. Of course, just staying in their own county and setting up something against Pittsburg (the two CIF North Coast Section finalists from 2019) wouldn’t be too shabby, either.
Sitting in eastern Sacramento County, the Bulldogs could still play every team on the schedule that was set up for this January even though Oak Ridge (El Dorado County), De La Salle (Contra Costa), Del Oro, Rocklin, Whitney and Granite Bay (all Placer County) are all in different counties. Sacramento County touches them all.
Grace Brethren (Simi Valley)
It isn’t that far from Grace Brethren to Oaks Christian, but the difference of being in Ventura County or in L.A. County is significant in terms of possible opponents. The Lancers can still play L.A. County schools, but not Riverside, San Bernardino or Orange. The fun part is that four corners spot where Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties all touch. We have no idea whether a public health department in any of those four counties would approve of a school playing another school in any of those other three corner-touching counties.
Helix (La Mesa)
As we said last spring, we thought all the pieces were in place for the Highlanders to win the CIF D1-AA state title. With no state championships and transfer quarterback Tyler Buchner (our State Junior of the Year from Bishop’s of La Jolla) taking off early for Notre Dame, they may look to just trying to be the best in the San Diego Section. Both Oceanside and Lincoln are loaded with top returning players and major D1 college prospects. And with no section playoffs, there’s nothing other than having to play only league opponents that should stop those three teams from trying to line up games against each other.
Lincoln (Stockton) &
St. Mary’s (Stockton)
This is from our hometown and home county (San Joaquin) and we will probably remain in a self-imposed lockdown of some degree for the next few months. Therefore, the possibility of perhaps going to a Lincoln-St. Mary’s football game in the spring is exciting. Both squads had a number of big-time sophomores and younger players last season — mainly WR Jadyn Marshall of the Rams plus RB Jonah Coleman and QB Kenyon Nelson of the Trojans. Can’t wait to see how those players have developed since the fall of 2019. Both teams also could try to drop some of their weaker league opponents for matchups vs. out-of-county opponents. Teams from Sacramento County, Contra Costa County and even Santa Clara County (the two counties touch in one corner) could all be possibilities.
Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
If we do get at least one MD-St. John Bosco game for the spring, then based on the past five years, the winner will be considered the State Team of the Year (assuming the two don’t lose to any other opponents). We will certainly be crowning such a team even if that team only gets to play four or five times. We’d just have to do that to show respect to the players and coaches who had to go through everything even for a limited schedule. Mater Dei also can still play Corona Centennial or other teams in L.A. County.
None of the Orange County schools would need to go outside their county to find top-level competition. The Diablos would be no different. It’s not just the Trinity League schools in their county, but their own South Coast League with San Clemente, Tesoro and others is very good as well.
Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills)
The 2019 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 champions are in El Dorado County. Unlike Folsom, which is in Sacramento County, the Trojans couldn’t face any teams other than those from Placer, Sacramento, Amador and Alpine counties. There wouldn’t be a school close to their size in Amador and Alpine, so it will only be Sacramento and Placer (which still comprises all of the other schools in their league).
Oaks Christian (Westlake Village)
Marmonte League foes such as Grace Brethren (Simi Valley) and Westlake (Westlake Village) and perhaps others would obviously still be okay even though that L.A./Ventura County border slices through some of them. The Lions also could still play Rancho Cucamonga of San Bernardino County, but they couldn’t if they were across the line in Ventura County.
Projected to be one of the top teams in Northern California, the Pirates have the ability to play solid competition in their own Bay Valley Athletic League. They also are in the same county (Contra Costa) as De La Salle of Concord. Since the two probably were going to meet in the CIF North Coast Section playoffs anyway, it would be hoped the teams can set something up this spring.
Serra (San Mateo)
Head coach Patrick Walsh has become perhaps the major leader among football coaches in the state advocating for a quicker return of high school sports (not just football). The irony of that is that when looking at the map is that Serra borders Santa Clara County to the south and San Francisco County to the north. Those are two of the most restrictive counties in the state relating to health departments. Santa Clara may have gone back on its hard-to-believe 25-foot rule announced last week (that lasted one day), but it’s still going to be way more cautious than most. As for San Francisco (where Serra’s other league members are located), we’re not sure if its Catholic schools have to go by the same rules as the public schools but they could have a hard time with its county health department as well. We do believe, however, that San Mateo County and Alameda County are considered adjoining even though the boundary is under the San Francisco Bay. Perhaps the Padres could look to link up with schools like Monte Vista of Danville, San Ramon Valley or Foothill (Pleasanton).
The Friars can still obviously play their Trinity League opponents and could still take a crack at taking down both or either St. John Bosco and/or Mater Dei. They do have a stellar group of returnees led by junior QB Noah Fifita, our State Sophomore of the Year in 2019 who just got an offer from Arizona.
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth)
This is one of the teams we feel the most sorry about for missing the season last fall and perhaps only getting to play a handful of games this spring. With four-year QB Chayden Peery and others all back from the 2019 season, it was likely going to be the best team in school history. It was a senior-oriented group and even if it gets in a few games, Peery is already gone (and others). Sierra Canyon isn’t quite independent in football, but the only league game on its listed schedule was against Paraclete of Lancaster. The Trailblazers could still play Bakersfield, a Kern County school but we’d assume the Kern High School District schools would likely just play each other since that district is so large. Sierra Canyon’s best bets for opponents may be more local or in Ventura County.
St. John Bosco (Bellflower)
The defending CIF Open Division champions are in L.A. County (right next door to Orange County) so playing any or all of its Trinity League opponents (which are all in Orange County) can still happen over a short season. We’re not sure, however, what happens if the current tiers don’t change and a situation develops in which Orange County is okay to play but L.A. County is not. The Braves can’t play Centennial of Corona (Riverside County) but they could play teams up in Ventura County (Oaks Christian). They could even go up as far as Kern County, but there wouldn’t be much of a worthy opponent for them to even consider that.
This CIFSS school has been in the State Top 25 numerous times in recent seasons and is from one of those towns in that spur of San Bernardino County that sits between L.A. County and Riverside County. That means that while a team from Riverside like Corona Centennial can’t play an opponent from L.A. County, the Highlanders could. They just couldn’t play any opponent from Orange County.
Valley Christian (San Jose)
The league that the Warriors are in, the famed West Catholic Athletic League, released its proposed schedule late last week. Valley Christian was the second-best team in the league in the 2019 season behind Serra (San Mateo) and is in Santa Clara County along with WCAL members Bellarmine, Archbishop Mitty and St. Francis (Mountain View). VC and the other teams in its county can play each other and they can play Serra (San Mateo), but the San Francisco schools in the WCAL (St. Ignatius, Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral) would be off-limits. The proposed WCAL schedule also has it going from March 12 to April 17 (six weeks).
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports