New California COVID-19 guidelines put high school sports on hold, but revisions expected soon

Corona del Mar's Bradley Schlom, center, and John Humphreys, right, do a celebratory handshake and dance.
Corona del Mar’s Bradley Schlom, center, and John Humphreys, right, do a celebratory handshake and dance after Schlom scored against Serra during the second half in the CIF State Division 1-A title game at Cerritos College on Dec. 14, 2019. CdM hopes for a chance to defend its CIF Southern Section and state titles in 2021.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Corona del Mar High School football coach Dan O’Shea was cuddling with his 3-year-old son Peter on Monday night when he fell asleep next to him.

“I woke up at 9:30 or 10,” O’Shea said. “I walk out, grab my phone, and I’m like, ‘Oh no, what the hell happened?’”

O’Shea’s phone was blowing up with messages. What happened was that the California Department of Public Health released updated youth sports guidelines for reopening for the first time since August.

The guidelines state that no athletic competitions can take place prior to Jan. 25, though that date would be revisited by Jan. 4 based on updated COVID-19 numbers statewide. They also assigned each sport to a color-coded tier for reopening.

The guidelines are subject to revision, and officials were working Tuesday on doing just that.

CIF Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said in an email late Tuesday afternoon that new guidelines would be released Wednesday morning, as provided by the California Department of Public Health in consultation with the CIF State Office, on the requirements for a return to competition for the high school athletics in the CIF Southern Section.

The vaccines will do little to stem the new infections flooding California. Initial supplies will be steered toward healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Under the guidelines released Monday, football, as an outdoor and high-contact sport, would not be able to be played until a county was in the orange tier for reopening which indicates “moderate” risk of COVID-19. The path to having basketball is even more uphill, as a county would have to be in the yellow tier for reopening indicating “minimal” risk.

In 2019, CdM football went a perfect 16-0 on its way to CIF Southern Section Division 3 and CIF State Division I-A titles. Now, O’Shea is just hoping to get the Sea Kings back on the field in 2021 for games that matter.

O’Shea and San Clemente football coach Jaime Ortiz organized a Zoom meeting with CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod for Wednesday at 2 p.m. At least 45 head football coaches from Orange County are expected to attend, O’Shea said.

Edison’s Erin Johnson putts in a Sunset Conference crossover match against Huntington Beach at SeaCliff Country Club.
Edison’s Erin Johnson putts in a Sunset Conference crossover match against Huntington Beach at SeaCliff Country Club in Huntington Beach on Oct. 1, 2019. Golf is one of the sports that would be able to be played in the most restrictive purple tier, according to guidelines released Monday by the California Department of Public Health.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“How do I feel about football getting assigned the orange color?” O’Shea said. “Obviously, we’d have to make a jump from purple to red to orange in a manner of two good solid months, a little over two months with a potential change in the calendar season. Or, playing the back half of the current CIF date allowance, which is roughly starting games the week of March 1 and maybe having five or six games and a bowl game.

“To get that calendar lined up and to get into an orange color is a monumental task, to say the least, but at least we have an opportunity, so to speak. We’re certainly willing to bust our [behinds] and overturn every stone to see and find a way to make that happen in conjunction with our society as a whole. This is a societal issue that we’re fighting, not just something that Corona del Mar football or Edison football or San Clemente football can say, ‘Hey, we’ll get our program in the right positivity rates.’ We’re trying to convince society to change their actions and affect these numbers that we’re going to use to declare purple to red to orange to yellow.”

Orange County Board of Supervisor Don Wagner, Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon and Newport Beach Councilman Noah Blom among those who attended Sunday’s protest in Newport Beach.

CIF Southern Section sports that would be allowed to have practices and games in the most-restrictive purple tier for reopening, which indicates widespread risk, include cross-country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field. However, of those sports, only cross-country is designated as a fall sport on the modified calendar; the others are spring sports.

Sports that would be allowed in the red tier, which indicates substantial risk, include baseball, field hockey, girls’ lacrosse and softball.

Orange County has not dropped to the orange tier for reopening since the color-coded tier system was introduced, but that is the standard for not only football but soccer, volleyball, boys’ lacrosse and water polo.

The other CIF sports that would have to wait for the yellow tier include wrestling and cheerleading.

Newport Harbor High girls’ soccer coach Justin Schroeder said that Monday’s updated guidelines didn’t seem very thought out. Not surprisingly, he also disagreed with soccer being associated with the orange tier for reopening.

“It seems like draft one to me, truthfully, where they just kept saying they were going to put it out so they just threw it out there,” Schroeder said.

“My hope is that CIF State gets involved and gets them to pump the brakes on some of that stuff. If that’s what we’re going with the rest of the year, that’s going to be a bummer, because I don’t really think we get to the orange tier anytime soon. It’s good for baseball and softball and girls’ lacrosse, because they’ll probably be able to play, but a lot of other sports won’t.”

Edison High athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Rich Boyce said he is keeping hope alive that there will be a basketball season.

Boyce said he’s thought that maybe every sport could play at the same time, with games beginning in March. In that scenario, he has told his coaches that he would encourage those athletes who wanted to play three sports to do so.

“It’s a strange year and we’ve got to be adaptive, so hopefully we will do that,” Boyce said.

“If I was a kid, and I was put in that situation where I could play three sports at the same time, man that would be awesome. It’s what we can do for the kids, and everybody’s got to remember that and stop yelling at each other and getting upset at each other. Everybody put your mask on and let’s get this done. Stop being selfish, and let’s get this done so the kids can get to play. They’ve lost enough; let’s give them something now.”

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