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As COVID-19 surges, high school sports season in California remains uncertain

A table is set up at Sierra Canyon to register and test players as they arrive for conditioning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A table is set up at Sierra Canyon High to register and test players as they arrive for conditioning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

When the California Interscholastic Federation decided in July to delay the start of the 2020-21 high school sports season until December because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the expectation was that conditions would improve enough to begin games and practices. It’s not happening, and now there’s concern that time could be running out for fall sports athletes.

Girls’ volleyball matches were supposed to begin on Dec. 12. At West Hills Chaminade, athletes still haven’t been cleared to use the gym.

Los Angeles County-based football teams have been engaged in conditioning for weeks, but full practices haven’t started because there has been no youth sports update given by state health officials since Aug. 3, and counties in the “purple” tier, including L.A. County, have severe restrictions. A Dec. 14 official football practice start date is unlikely to happen in the Southern Section or the City Section.

“I’m frustrated at the situation,” Chaminade athletic director Todd Borowski said. “They’re putting the CIF in a corner. There’s going to be a time where we need a decision whether we’re going to play or cancel. It’s a no-win situation. But people need to know what’s going on.”

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High school football players can sign up and upload videos to the Rams’ virtual combine, where they may be viewed by college recruiters.

The Southern Section seems less willing than the City Section to change its schedules again. The Southern Section has told member schools that seasons will proceed as scheduled, meaning that if games don’t happen, they’ll be canceled and the next season will take place.

“You can’t push all 24 sports into one season because no one has the facilities,” Borowski said.

That puts the football season in jeopardy if league games can’t be played beginning in February. The 10-game regular season was scheduled to begin Jan. 8 and conclude with state bowl games by April 17.

The City Section is expected this week to rescind its Dec. 14 date to start football practice and wait to see if the environment changes enough to have games in the coming months. Most of the teams in the City Section are part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Supt. Austin Beutner has said if it’s not safe enough for students to return to classrooms, then it’s not safe enough for students to compete in sports.

The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections in California has doubled in the last two weeks and is rapidly headed to breaking past its summertime high, according to a Times analysis.

“I think the City can be flexible,” Birmingham athletic director Rick Prizant said.

Communication from the CIF and section commissioners will be crucial in the coming weeks, because club programs are gearing up to fill in gaps if high schools are unable to figure out a path forward.

Borowski said he and other athletic directors aren’t ready to wave a white flag of surrender.

“There’s some kids who worked their whole lives for this moment, and it’s being taken away,” he said. “We will continue with everything until someone tells us not to.”


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