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CIF to advocate for playing sports this school year

Schools in many counties such as Los Angeles might not be able to play football if COVID-19 transmission does not decrease.
Schools in many counties such as Los Angeles might not be able to play football if COVID-19 transmission does not decrease soon.
(Getty Images)

There will be high school sports played during the 2020-21 school year, but it might not include football, girls’ volleyball or boys’ and girls’ basketball. That’s among the worst-case scenarios based on the updated youth sports guidelines released by the California Department of Public Health on Monday.

The state guidelines don’t allow any sports to start sooner than Jan. 25.

The bottom line is that counties need to get out of the state’s purple color tier, which indicates widespread COVID-19 transmissions, and into the less-restrictive red, orange and yellow tiers, and that’s unlikely to happen soon in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the state.

Football and girls’ volleyball will be allowed in the orange tier. Basketball will be allowed in yellow. Vaccines that started to be distributed this week would need to help produce a significant reduction in coronavirus numbers before March to help some counties reach the tiers required to proceed under the guidelines.

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Ron Nocetti, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, said Tuesday his organization intends to advocate for more sports to be allowed in the red tier, which would help open the door for additional sports to be played in hard-hit underserved communities.

“It’s a positive step in the right direction to get updated guidance,” Nocetti said. “Now we have to advocate for our students.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday it will be the coronavirus that determines when sports can be played. A recent COVID-19 surge resulted in a stay-at-home order that lasts until Dec. 28.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. But we are still in the tunnel,” he said.

The biggest challenge is lowering COVID-19 infections to get out of the purple tier, which allows only cross-country, track, golf, swimming and tennis to be played.

Simi Valley football coach Jim Benkert, who has guided teams to five Southern Section championships, said it’s time for those involved in sports to unite in a common purpose to reduce COVID-19 numbers.

“This is the right thing to do right now,” he said. “I believe we’re going to play, but the only chance to play is to shut down and get the numbers better. It’s greater than high school football. People are dying. You have to make good choices here. My feeling is I really wish everyone shut down, got away from each other and allowed this to go away come January. If we don’t, we won’t be able to play. This is the real place we’re in.”

With basketball in the yellow tier because it’s played indoors, players and coaches are left in uncomfortable territory.

“Got to keep hoping that we’re going to play,” La Canada Flintridge St. Francis basketball coach Todd Wolfson said. “It’s hard, especially for seniors. A lot are getting jobs and calling it quits. I’m keeping hope that the vaccines come in quicker than expected and things open up quick. The road looks tough, but a tough road has never stopped us and hopefully we can find a way.”

The state’s 10 commissioners met with Nocetti in a videoconference on Tuesday. The Southern Section announced it will be releasing new guidelines to schools on Wednesday on requirements for a return to competition. Commissioners are being cautious because guidelines will undergo a reassessment by Jan. 4.

“I have a group of seniors that needs their coach to be optimistic,” Benkert said. “Until it’s done and I’m told it’s not going to happen, I’m going to continue looking at opportunities to play some segment of football.”

On the day the youth sports guidelines were released, Lake Balboa Birmingham junior receiver Arlis Boardingham received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. He’s in better position than most to skip a football season. He’s an outstanding triple jumper and track can be held in the purple tier.

“It’s going to be difficult, a big challenge,” he said. “If we don’t get this year, I’ll use it as training and take it as another time period to get better, and if there’s a track season, getting faster and stronger.”

The athletes with the most to lose are the seniors. It happened last spring to the class of 2020 when the sports season was halted in March. Athletes in baseball, softball, boys’ volleyball, golf, track, tennis and lacrosse never made it back.

Whatever happens, Boardingham has committed himself to finding a way to keep moving forward.

“Just get better by any means possible,” he said. “Do whatever you can. Stay motivated. Don’t forget your goal and remain hopeful because that’s all we can do in times like this.”


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