Column: It’s time to trust coaches and educators: Let kids play sports

Chaminade football coach Ed Croson wears his Eagles face covering while directing his team through a conditioning program.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

After eight months of a COVID-19 high school sports shutdown in California, it’s time to either place trust in educators and coaches to conduct activities with safety precautions in place, or to let teenagers and their already spooked parents turn to adults masquerading as experts with little incentive to follow rules, guidelines or common-sense approaches.

Schools are ready to take on the challenge of playing football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball, water polo, and track and field. They just need the chance.

High schools in Utah, Florida, Texas, Tennessee and 31 other states have been playing football this fall. It hasn’t always gone smoothly. Games have been postponed or forfeited out of an abundance of caution when players tested positive or were in contact with somebody who tested positive. But seasons have gone on, even having fans in attendance.

Making it work successfully in California can happen. Schools outside of Los Angeles have been conducting workouts and conditioning for weeks. They’ve purchased thermal imaging cameras, required masks, made students fill out health questionnaires on apps, banned use of locker rooms, gotten rid of water bottles and sanitized weight equipment. Now it’s time to add to the trust.


Let players start to block and tackle in football and hit volleyballs in campus facilities while sanitizing equipment and social distancing, when possible. If someone gets sick, administrators know what to do. These are mostly young, energetic teenagers wanting the chance to play games they love with their friends. With proper precautions, it can happen. But it must start now if the official start of practices on Dec. 14 is going to happen.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and local health authorities need to come up with the guidelines to get going. They will have the support of communities across the state. Those who still have concerns don’t have to participate.

High schools have already shown they can be trusted to follow guidelines. Since March, schools kept their gyms locked and their fields closed. Coaches stayed home and talked to athletes via their computers while watching club coaches run practices and hold competitions in direct violation of state guidelines.

Let’s start rewarding those who followed the rules. Let’s honor those athletes who spent days and months in their backyards, garages and bedrooms working on their own while waiting for the day to get back to playing.

It’s pretty hilarious to go out on a Saturday or Sunday and see parks filled with soccer players routinely playing games in violation of state guidelines. The selective enforcement by the park and recreation departments adds to the frustration of parents. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon’s basketball team is traveling as a club team to Arizona on Nov. 12 to play on ESPN2, thus avoiding state guidelines.

The day has come to start moving forward. California is home to the smartest innovators, the best doctors, the most dedicated athletes.

Parents deserve the choice to decide what happens to their sons and daughters. Those with no money and no connections have been watching others leave California to play in competitions in Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The gap between the haves and have-nots has only widened. Enough.

Take temperatures. Require masks. Fill out forms. Sign waivers. There’s no 100% certainty precautions are going to prevent the coronavirus from finding its way onto a campus, but there’s no 100% certainty you won’t be seriously injured driving a car, either. We wear safety belts and trust the police to monitor speed. The environment can be created to resume high school sports because educators will take their jobs seriously as the gatekeepers.

This isn’t as tough as landing a spaceship on the moon. Take the appropriate precautions. Listen to the doctors. Protect those with preexisting conditions. Be serious about following guidelines and wearing masks on sidelines. Remove those who don’t follow the rules. Be prepared to forfeit games if safety guidelines are breached.

Let’s trust the educators and coaches to make it work. They’ve had months to prepare. No one expects normalcy to return, but you have to start somewhere.