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Orange County meets COVID-19 criteria for outdoor sports to return

Newport Harbor's Morgan Netherton scores on a penalty shot against Cathedral Catholic in 2019.
Newport Harbor’s Morgan Netherton scores on a penalty shot against Cathedral Catholic in the first half of a nonleague match in Newport Beach on Dec. 21, 2019.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Outdoor high school sports in Orange County received favorable news Tuesday, as the county’s coronavirus numbers cleared the threshold required for a return to competition.

On Friday, the California Department of Public Health released new guidance for youth sports that stated outdoor sports could compete within counties whose adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents was equal to or less than 14.

Orange County’s numbers in that metric improved from a seven-day average of 20.7 cases (with a seven-day lag) last week to 11.9 cases in the most recent data, as provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The news most immediately helps football and water polo, two fall sports that were on the cusp of losing their seasons in their entirety, giving them a chance to play an abbreviated schedule.

Commissioner Rob Wigod said last week that the CIF Southern Section will keep the end dates specified in its revised sports calendar. The final date to hold contests in the section for football is April 17.

It will still be up to individual schools, school districts and counties to make decisions about what sports will be allowed to return. Weekly COVID-19 testing is also a requirement to compete in football and water polo.

The Fountain Valley boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams moved to 2-0 in Huntington Beach Union High School District dual meets in the abbreviated season on Saturday.

Estancia High School athletic director Nate Goellrich said the school intends to field a team for every sport that has been approved.

“I’ve been saying for a while I felt we would go from zero miles per hour to 200, and that’s what we’re doing to try to finalize all these details,” Goellrich said. “[There are] a lot of details that will go into being able to host events, but we’re willing to do whatever that takes to get our kids to play.

“It’s been a long time coming for them, just to see even in the morning when rumors were flying [about] what the possible [coronavirus] numbers could be, walking around our campus, you could see just the excitement back in our kids.”

Marina football coach Jeff Turley indicated that there was also a pep in the step of his players at practice, which was the first for the Vikings in helmets.

“Usually, kids are dragging and dreading the whole thing, and there was none of that,” Turley said. “There was excitement. They were just full of energy. There wasn’t one kid complaining.

“One of the kids sits there and goes, ‘We’re done? We can’t keep going?’ You don’t usually hear that at the end of our ‘Fourth Quarter’ conditioning circuit. They’re all excited.”

Ocean View football coach Luis Nunez said it was a challenge for the kids to stay motivated with their season being delayed twice — once at the outset of the school year, and then again with the revised calendar pointing to a possible starting date in January.

“It’s kind of a good life lesson that hopefully they can take away with them in life,” Nunez said. “Just never give up, control what you can control, and thankfully a lot of them stuck with it and they worked hard. Man, we play March 12!”

Meanwhile, the season will be a sprint for water polo, for which the season end date is March 20. Regardless of how short their season is, Newport Harbor junior attacker Morgan Netherton was thrilled when she was told the good news at the end of practice.

Netherton, a USC commit, described her happiness as “beyond words” to learn that there would be more games to be played.

“I was immediately so happy,” Netherton said. “The fact that I get to play, hopefully in my own pool, next week or in two weeks is just amazing. I haven’t done that in over a year.”

Orange County, which is in the purple tier, moved closer to advancing to the less-restrictive red tier. The county’s testing positivity rate dropped from 7.8% last week to 5.4%. The county is currently meeting the red tier criteria for testing positivity and its health equity quartile positivity rate, which is at 7%.

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