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Orange County high school football programs forced to hit pause due to COVID-19 surge

An empty Davidson Field, home field for the Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high football programs, is shown Tuesday.
An empty Davidson Field, the home field for the Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high school football programs, is shown Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

For now, there won’t be any summer high school football workouts in town.

Local high school football teams will not be practicing together until further notice after directives from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Huntington Beach Union High School District.

Newport-Mesa’s four public high school programs — Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Estancia and Newport Harbor — were each supposed to begin modified summer camps Monday before the district announced that wouldn’t happen until specific COVID-19 guidelines were put in place by the California Department of Public Health.

On Wednesday, the Huntington Beach Unified School District sent an email to families that all summer camps were postponed indefinitely during the coronavirus pandemic, due to advice from the Orange County Department of Education Legal Services office. The HBUHSD contains six high schools: Edison, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Marina, Ocean View and Westminster.

“They strongly suggest delaying the opening of our summer programs until after OCDE receives clarifying guidance from both the Orange County Health Care Agency and California Department of Public Health,” the email read. “Because of this, we are joining other Orange County school districts in making the difficult decision to postpone the start of our summer athletics ... programs until further notice.”

The district said summer sports would begin Monday with face coverings, distancing and temperature checks in place, but Orange County and state officials are telling schools to hold off for now.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 1,333 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and seven new deaths. There have been 20,225 cumulative cases of COVID-19 reported in the county, and 376 cumulative deaths.

The number of positive tests stood at 14.9% Wednesday, which is a high during the pandemic.

Corona del Mar coach Dan O’Shea said that football programs around Orange County found out, beginning Saturday, that their summer workouts were being postponed indefinitely.

“It’s just sent all of our programs kind of emotionally reeling,” said O’Shea, who led the Sea Kings to a 16-0 season in 2019, winning CIF Southern Section Division 3 and CIF State Division 1-A titles. “We were talking about this July 6 date for weeks [for NMUSD schools]. But I say that with a clear understanding that there’s bigger issues. The reality of the health situation in Orange County, California, and the nation has changed so dramatically in 10 days. There’s a feeling that we’ve gone backward health-wise, and we’re all just trying to react as best we can.”

A closed Huntington Beach High School Cap Sheue Field is shown on Wednesday.
A closed Huntington Beach High School Cap Sheue Field is shown on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

With football teams currently left without a timetable, it appears more and more unlikely that high school football will start as scheduled with Week Zero games on Aug. 21. The CIF State office is scheduled to make a decision on 2020-21 sports calendars by July 20.

“There are multiple entities that we have to hear from, at this point,” Fountain Valley football coach Chris Anderson said, adding that schools will also have to be returning to the classroom for sports to be considered. “That’s really the biggest piece. Until we’ve got the districts with a comprehensive plan in place, we’re not going to really have an idea of what the season’s going to look like.

“From my understanding, a lot of the CIF’s planning and preparation is going to be in reaction to the school districts. If we’re not back in the classroom or we’re doing all virtual learning come August and September, it’s difficult for them to come out and say, ‘We’re going to start a fall sports season’ at that time.”

Huntington Beach coach Brett Brown said he thinks the season will “definitely” be pushed back.

“Whether it’s going to [start] in October or January or the spring, it all depends on what’s going on with the virus at that time,” Brown said. “I’m hopeful [we’ll have a season], but I don’t know.”

Ocean View coach Luis Nuñez said he already was planning to suspend team workouts and activities until the CIF announcement on July 20, when the CIF is expected to announce the new calendars. Nuñez said at this point, he believes the high school football season will start in January.

“There’s just so much going on, so much information telling you it’s safe, telling you it’s not safe,” Nuñez said. “Someone in my position, I think should always stay the most precautious, right, when it involves people that we love. I tell my kids, I love football, but I love them more.”

California cases are on pace to double every 24.8 days, a number that is used by experts to measure how quickly the virus is spreading.

Entering his senior season, Ocean View’s Marcus Cianca is a difference-maker for Nuñez at running back or receiver, as well as defensive back.

Cianca said he has been working out at home and staying in shape.

“It’s frustrating, but then again, I’d rather be playing football where it’s just like how we left it,” Cianca said. “I don’t want to go back there and have to play with masks. I want to play our type of football that we usually play. I look at it like sure, I could be mad, I could be frustrated over the whole thing, but there’s only so much I can control.”

Newport-Mesa Unified School District was set to begin summer sports camps on Monday, but those plans were cancelled.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District was set to begin summer sports camps on Monday, but those plans were canceled until the state can develop guidelines.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor football booster President Jason Lavin said Newport Harbor and CdM football parents were sent a survey in early June. According to 831 responses from parents, the numbers show that the vast majority of them — 94.5% — would be comfortable with practices that were outside.

Lavin’s son, Cole, is an incoming senior quarterback, and he also has a freshman son, Jimmy, coming into the program. He acknowledged that the survey, which was sent to the NMUSD by Lavin and CdM booster President Scott Brown on June 8, was conducted before the recent spike.

The Orange County health department does not make public which restaurants and businesses have closed temporarily due to COVID-19 cases.

“Cole is in the best shape of his life, and so is probably a third of the football team,” Jason Lavin said. “Mentally, I just think they’re trying not to think about it. It’s a tough thing to think about, that we might not have a season.”

Estancia football coach Mike Bargas isn’t giving up hope, though the frustration is mounting.

“It’s just tough,” Bargas said. “Hopefully we get good news in the next couple of weeks. We’re ready to go. We could go tomorrow or this afternoon, if they allowed us to. We were ready to take all of the precautions ... but we’re just in a holding pattern. We were well-versed by the district, the athletic directors and the administration on what we had to do to get to that point [for camps starting Monday], then the rug was pulled from underneath us by much higher people than the district.”

Huntington Beach High School's Cap Sheue Field, home to the Huntington Beach, Edison and Fountain Valley football programs.
Huntington Beach High School’s Cap Sheue Field, home to the Huntington Beach, Edison and Fountain Valley football programs.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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