Orange County high schools play football game in violation of state health guidelines

Pat McInally is shown coaching in the Orange County All-Star Classic in 2017.
Pat McInally, shown coaching in the Orange County All-Star Classic in 2017, guided Calvary Chapel on Saturday in a football game against Capistrano Valley Christian, violating state COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Despite CIF and California Department of Public Health guidelines barring high school sports competitions because of the coronavirus pandemic, several football games involving high school teams were played over the weekend in Southern California.

Coaches for Capistrano Valley Christian and Santa Ana Calvary Chapel confirmed to the Orange County Register that their teams played in a game on Saturday using school equipment. Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said the section is gathering information about that game and several others. Eric Preszler coached Capistrano Valley Christian and Pat McInally Calvary Chapel.

The Southern Section has taken the stand that the decision to allow athletic teams to resume is an “individual school/district/private school decision” following the guidelines developed by the state and local health authorities.

Multiple demonstrations took place at O.C. high schools on Friday, as the “Let Them Play” rallies advocated for high school sports to resume despite the rise of COVID-19 cases.

The CIF has said no games would be played until the governor and state public health guidelines allowed for them, which could lead to sanctions against member schools in violation. If the CIF decides it can’t take action because no bylaws were violated, then look for more private schools to move forward and play games in violation of state guidelines.

For weeks, games have been played by club teams in football, basketball, baseball and other sports in violation of state and local health guidelines. County health departments have done little to stop competitions other than posting signs and issuing warnings. A group of football players from the Bay Area have been driving down by bus this month to play in weekly club football competitions in Chino.

The difference this last weekend was teams representing high schools playing in competitions. Preszler tweeted, “Fired up to be 1-0 but more proud of the adversity these young men have pushed through and the challenge they have accepted.”

As of Tuesday, the tweet was no longer available.

By canceling playoffs, the Southern and City sections believe schools might hold regular-season games this spring if there is a reduction in coronavirus cases.

There could be more high schools deciding to ignore county and state health guidelines as the Southern Section canceled its fall sports playoffs on Tuesday. That could leave it up to schools to decide if they want to play any football games before April 17, when the season is scheduled to end.

Currently under the state guidelines, football is not allowed unless a county is in the orange tier of the state’s return-to-play protocols. All of Southern California is in the purple tier, meaning there is widespread transmission of coronavirus.

The CIF decided last July to delay the fall sports season until December. A further delay occurred because of surging coronavirus cases around the state. The first sports competitions in the purple tier can begin on Jan. 25 for cross-country, golf, tennis, and track and field.

Eric Sondheimer is a staff writer with the Los Angeles Times.

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