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New youth sports guidance gives more fall sports a chance at a season

Edison quarterback Braeden Boyles cuts up the field.
Edison quarterback Braeden Boyles cuts up the field before throwing against La Habra in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 football playoffs at La Habra High School on Nov. 15, 2019.
(File Photo)

The California Department of Public Health released new youth sports guidance Friday that provides a path forward for some high school sports to take place that were running out of racetrack.

Set to take effect next Friday, Feb. 26, the new guidelines will allow for outdoor sports in the red and orange tier to hold contests, so long as a county’s COVID-19 adjusted case rate is equal to or fewer than 14 cases per 100,000 residents.

Orange County currently has an adjusted daily case rate of 20.7 cases per 100,000 residents, per data provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

For football and water polo, two orange-tiered fall sports for which time was running out, the new guidance states that those sports must conduct weekly COVID-19 testing to participate in competition. That measure will be in effect until a county advances into the red tier.

“If you’re going to mandate a testing program, then you have to make sure that there’s access to everyone,” CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod said in a virtual meeting with reporters Friday afternoon. “It can’t just be confined to those that could afford it, or those who might have better access to being able to do it.

“What we heard today was that the state government is going to allow for the testing to happen and foot the bill, pay the bill for it for everyone, and so we’ll take them at their word and say that that would mean that it is accessible to everyone that wishes to do it, and they’ll be the ones to provide it in terms of the cost and the things involved — although it will be schools, school districts [and] private schools that will have to go through the logistics … of how to actually implement their testing procedures.”

The testing requirement for outdoor high-contact sports applies to participants who are at least 13 years of age, as well as coaches.

The guidance also states that inter-team competitions are to take place between teams within the same county or from bordering counties where the sport is allowed at that time. Teams are also not allowed to participate in out-of-state games and tournaments.

Wigod added that the section is sticking with its original end dates from its revised sports schedule, which came about in July because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means that the last date to hold football contests is Saturday, April 17.

Asked why the section would not be extending the end dates for football specifically, Wigod said it would not be fair to other fall sports, and the continuance of fall sports beyond the scheduled end dates would impose on what he has called an “ambitious list” of sports the section hopes to have competing in the spring.

Edison High School quarterback Braeden Boyles, a senior, was seen at the Let Them Play rally held in front of the school in January. He said he pumped his fist when he learned of the news during the day’s online learning.

“For a little bit, I did not think that we were going to get to play,” Boyles said. “I tried to stay optimistic, but for a little bit, it was not looking good. Right now, I just can’t believe it.”

Estancia football coach Mike Bargas said time is of the essence to get the kids back on the field for games. He said it would be “a travesty” if a season did not take place now that there is a window of opportunity.

“Since August, we’ve been led to believe that we’re going to get a season in,” Bargas said. “It’s been a bunch of high highs and extreme low lows, so I think in this case in point, yes, it’s awesome that they’re giving us this opportunity. Now we’ve got to work together and try to figure out a way to make sure this thing goes [right] and we can make that happen.”

Marina athletic director Michelle Spencer indicated that she is ready to go to work to make sure the school’s student-athletes are back competing in short order.

“We’re excited,” Spencer said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get every team possible in the pool or on the field. That’s our commitment, so we’ll figure out the testing. Whatever they want to throw at us, we’ve got this. We’ll figure it out. We’ve already planned schedules, so we’ll be ready to go for that.”

The section previously canceled its fall sports championships, allowing for regular season contests to be held through the dates that had been set aside for CIF regional and state championships. It will be a blitz of a season for water polo.

“I think it’s great news in general for high school sports,” Laguna Beach water polo coach Ethan Damato said in a message. “Water polo can only be played until March 20, so I think we might be able to get league play in during that time frame. Whatever opportunity we get, whether it’s two weeks or three weeks, we will be excited to play.”

In a news conference Friday at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Alameda County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “We are confident that if we can resume, it will only help enliven the capacity of these kids to feel more engaged, feel more alive.”

Huntington Beach boys’ water polo coach Sasa Branisavljevic agrees.

“I am just absolutely thrilled that it is here and finally happening,” Branisavljevic said in a text. “The governor is right that it will make the kids feel alive, which I think has been overlooked. I’m happy. I know the kids are, too.”

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