According to coaches we’ve talked to, there are still questions about how testing will work and how all of these high school competitions can be held at the same time but now there is optimism that there will be a basketball season in California for boys and girls this spring. That came on Thursday and Friday when the state settled a lawsuit organized by the Let Them Play CA group, adjusted California Department of Public Health guidelines were released and the CIF issued its interpretations. The first football games in the state, meanwhile, are less than one week from taking place.
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(School districts can still opt to not start playing sports at the same time as CDPH guidelines say that they can. We know of several in the state that have already cancelled season 1 or fall sports for this school year, including football. The reported list so far includes El Monte, Porterville and Visalia.)
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It was not lost on many in the media who were listening to Governor Gavin Newsom last Thursday speak while standing under a basket inside a gym at the Stribley Community Center in Stockton.
Newsom’s topic for the day was about distributing vaccines to disproportionally impacted communities and announcing new guidelines to aid in that process. It was the same day, however, that the state and attorneys representing parents settled a lawsuit about its youth sports guidelines. That settlement resulted in changes that allow for indoor sports like basketball and volleyball and wrestling to resume everywhere in the state.
It was another victory in the movement known as Let Them Play CA, which along with leaders from the Golden State Football Coaches Community, helped broker the state to revise new public health guidelines on February 21 that greatly loosened restrictions on outdoor sports, including football.
While the football teams from around the state have been getting ready since Feb. 26 for a short spring season that will begin in many places next week, those same guidelines didn’t give much hope to coaches from indoor sports, which had been hampered by their placement of only being able to play once their counties returned to the yellow tier (the fourth level in the state’s four-colored tier system of reopening schools and businesses).
When the settlement was announced, there were no new guidelines that had been issued by the California Department of Public Health and the settlement itself couldn’t be read. The California Interscholastic Federation and several of its section commissioners had to say that until that happened that the previous February 21 guidelines were still in effect.
Late Thursday night, the CDPH came out with its revised guidelines for indoor sports. Due to the settlement of the suit, the new guidelines allows all high school sports to be conducted under the same testing protocols as those for college and pro sports. The key aspect of the new guidelines states that all sports (indoor and outdoor) can be allowed in counties with adjusted case rates of below 14 per 100,000.
On Friday, the CIF released its interpretation:
“CIF member schools may elect to resume all indoor sports, and outdoor sports in counties with an adjusted case of greater than 14 per 100,000 if the team adheres to the additional requirements as specified in the Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Guidance dated September 30, 2020.”
The CIF also advised schools to look at certain CDPH guidelines for colleges and said it was still awaiting “clarification and guidance from the CDPH regarding the definition of periodic PCR testing.”
As of last Tuesday, almost all counties in the state had reached that magical 14.0 mark. The only four that weren’t were Inyo, Kings, Merced and Stanislaus.
College athletic teams, of course, are only able to compete because they are conducting COVID-19 testing in addition to following other protocols such as wearing masks when not in competition and limiting fans to nearly no one. The state already said it would cover the costs of testing for football, but wouldn’t be doing the same for indoor sports. In response to that, the Let Them Play CA group has partnered with a testing service to offer free testing for schools.
The other element of the testing requirement under the new indoor sports guidelines and the previous guidelines for football is that they are not required once a county reaches the red tier for football. Several counties in the state, especially in Northern California, have already reached that tier. For basketball, it is still showing as needing to be in the yellow so the testing requirement will likely remain in effect unless the sport can at some point get moved into the orange tier.
Counties and school districts also can continue to opt out of any season under all guidelines. The sense around the state is that public school districts with more limited resources will be the ones still not able to play sports while the private schools and those larger school districts in more affluent communities will be fine.
The new guidelines also don’t take into account all of the other difficulties schools will face in playing sports this spring with many of the games all happening at the same time. Football’s start-up next week will be quickly followed with a lot of schools playing baseball and softball games in the week after that. Under section and state calendars already in effect, basketball was not going to be starting anyway until later in March.
Several leagues around the state with football teams playing have already issued schedules with games taking place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday due to officials shortages. A lot of schools playing football also seem to prefer Saturday games as opposed to the traditional Friday night because of travel (no busses and kids needing to get to places on their own in traffic) and being able to play freshman, JV and varsity games back-to-back-to-back with the same officials.
It’s not just officials, either. High school sporting events often rely on volunteers. How many of them will be able to get inside venues? How many of them will be able to help at multiple games all going on at the same time.
The football end date for most sections will be April 17, but there are at least two CIF sections that will be playing games for two weeks longer than that. The end date for all of the spring sports plus basketball is June 12.
COMMENTS FROM TOP BOYS/GIRLS BASKETBALL COACHES
“My initial reaction was one of shock, a week ago I would have thought this was not gonna happen. Things moved very fast. Now just trying to pause and think about how we can prepare our kids for a season in a very short amount of time. I’m so happy they get to play, but I’m also interested in how this whole thing will look.”
Frank Knight (Moreau Catholic, Hayward)
Stan Delus (Etiwanda)
“I really believe playing indoors is something that can be achieved. Now I do understand the concerns of the state of California regarding the virus. My gut feeling is if it was not for the lawsuit there would be no sense of urgency getting indoor sports up and running.”
Derek Taylor (Taft, Woodland Hills)
“I was excited. This has been a long 12 months of not only a pandemic but living in a world of uncertainty with regard to youth sports. Yesterday’s announcement gives hope to what we thought would not happen. I am more excited for the seniors, and the thought that they may get something this season. I am hopeful that CIF and all the sections can come together and, at minimum provide some uniformity across the leagues and sections so everyone is on a level playing field in terms of access and requirements. A very good day for student athletes across our great state.”
Kelly Sopak (Carondelet, Concord)
“(The lawsuit) doesn’t mean much to me. I’ll wait for LBUSD (Long Beach Unified) to let me know we can play; they are the ones in charge.”
Shelton Diggs (Long Beach Poly)
“I’m optimistic for the first time in almost a year. While excited as I am about the prospects of it all, I think we have to sit and let this digest for a minute and figure out what the next steps are.”
Sue Phillips (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose)
(Speaking to the Bay Area News Group)
“I’m ecstatic about the news yesterday. I realize we have some things to iron out but knowing that will have some resemblance of a season is exciting. We have a great group returning so I’m really happy for them and the opportunity they will have.”
Brad Roznovsky (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno)
“A wide range of emotions…excited (for the kids, especially the seniors), relieved (that there’s finally a resolution), frustrated (that it took so long when every other state was playing). It’ll just be great for the kids to be back in our gym, playing the game they love, with their friends after a full calendar year away from all of those things.”
Yancy Dodson (Poly, Riverside)
Note: Ronnie Flores & Harold Abend contributed to this article.