Private sports competitions grow across Southland in violation of health orders

Football players warm up behind a mesh fabric-covered fence on a field recently constructed in San Bernardino County.
Aerial view of Winner Circle field that’s hosting 11 on 11 football competitions in violation of state health guidelines.
(Dylan Stewart)

On a clear, brisk Saturday morning, after exiting the 71 freeway in Chino Hills and traveling about six miles past a dairy farm and through a series of new housing units, there is a restricted two-lane road that ends up at Mike Raahauge’s shooting range.

“Pop, pop, pop,” are the sounds heard upon opening the car door in a gravel parking lot.

Then comes the strangest of sounds: an official’s whistle, followed by an announcement on a P.A. system across the street.

“And that’s the end of the game.”

Peering through a mesh fabric-covered chain-link fence, a group of teenage athletes dressed in football uniforms — shoulder pads, helmets and matching jerseys — are doing warmups on a regulation-sized field. Adults are walking toward the entrance outside the fence carrying folding chairs. The parking lot is filling up with cars, and several adults are sitting in the beds of their trucks to watch the action from an elevated position above the fence.


Welcome to the Winner Circle 11-on-11 club football league. Games have been played for two consecutive weekends in January even though state and county public health guidelines say youth sports competitions are prohibited because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When given the location of the upcoming 11-on-11 competition that was to take place on a newly built field across from the gun range, officials for Riverside County and San Bernardino County could not agree on who was responsible for overseeing the area. It’s called “Old Chino,” and it’s an area where Chino, Corona, Eastvale and Norco border each other.

Riverside County spokesman Jose Arballo Jr. said in an email, “Our county counsel has been in contact with representatives with the firm and they have assured county counsel that they are not holding games at locations within Riverside County and that the only activities in Riverside County are those permitted by guidelines, such as practices.”

Then, on Monday, Arballo said in another email, “While the address we received initially is in Eastvale, the area where the games are actually occurring appears to be San Bernardino County.”

Winner Circle founder Jordan Campbell recently told the Daily News, “I’m saving lives. I have letters from parents saying their kids were going to commit suicide, and thanking us for giving their kid a way out of depression.”

San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert is already dealing with baseball games being played on weekends at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino in violation of state health guidelines.

He said there have been numerous complaints received about the stadium’s use but all the county can do is post signs telling people that the games are violating state health guidelines. He said the county cannot arrest or fine individuals for violating state health guidelines.


“It’s not a matter of being a criminal offense,” Wert said. “It’s a matter of not following a health order.”

Gov. Newsom insists the “vast majority” of businesses are following state guidelines. But in Southern California, there’s a growing number of club and private groups holding or organizing youth sporting events, with parents and others posting videos on social media highlighting the activities.

In Garden Grove, there were girls’ basketball pickup games held at a private indoor facility this last weekend. San Manuel Stadium hosted a baseball tournament Friday and Saturday. Winner Circle hosted football games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Baseball was played on a field in Sylmar.

Meanwhile, high schools continue to follow state guidelines, not allowing individuals to use their sports facilities and forcing coaches to follow safety protocols if practices are allowed.

The state’s youth sports restrictions have led to coaches’ groups and parents to organize protests for Friday afternoon around the state under the hashtag, ‘Lethemplay” despite surging COVID-19 numbers and hospitals facing overcrowded conditions, particularly intensive-care units.

Patrick Walsh, the football coach at San Mateo Serra in Northern California, has tried to bring together coaches and parents with the Facebook page “Golden State HSFB Community.” He believes high schools have proven they can follow protocols to play games safely if state officials allow it.

“The mental health issues are real,” he said. “Our kids are losing hope. We’re not suggesting we should start today or tomorrow but [we] should be afforded an opportunity to start in the spring.”


The CIF Southern Section has scheduled an announcement for Jan. 19, during which they could cancel all fall sports playoffs. Games were scheduled to begin in January after being delayed last July. Once playoffs are canceled, schools would be on their own in trying to catch up with club and private organizations holding games.

“We’re all sitting around waiting for people to guide us,” Walsh said.