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Southern Section, City Section cancel playoffs in football and other fall sports

Mater Dei receiver Kody Epps is tacked by St. John Bosco safety Jake Newman during their Trinity League showdown in 2019.
Mater Dei wide receiver Kody Epps is tacked by St. John Bosco safety Jake Newman during their Trinity League showdown on Oct. 25, 2019.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The CIF Southern Section announced Tuesday it is canceling fall sports playoffs and championships for football, girls’ volleyball, water polo and cross-country because of continuing coronavirus restrictions imposed by the California Department of Public Health and county health officials.

The decision leaves it up to the section’s 559 individual schools how to proceed. Currently, all counties in Southern California are in the state’s purple tier, signifying widespread coronavirus infections. The only sports cleared to begin Jan. 25 are track and field, cross-country, golf and tennis. But stay-at-home orders have to be lifted to proceed.

The City Section also announced it was canceling its fall playoffs but still hopes to hold a City championship in cross-country March 27.

It will be up to leagues to decide whether to play any regular-season games if health guidelines permit. The canceling of playoffs and championships increases the window of time to play regular-season games.

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Football is in the orange tier, but that didn’t stop four private schools in the Southern Section from holding football games last week in violation of the state guidelines.

In response, the executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, Ron Nocetti, sent out a letter Tuesday warning member schools that they would be subject to sanctions if they do not follow state and county health guidelines, including fines, suspension or dismissal from membership. He said compliance with the guidelines is “mandatory, not discretionary.”

Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod said he spoke with the four principals of the schools involved in playing — Capistrano Valley Christian, Santa Ana Calvary Chapel, Cerritos Valley Christian and Bermuda Dunes Desert Christian. Wigod said the principals understand the games should not have been played and matter is now closed.

The powerful Trinity League, made up of Bellflower St. John Bosco, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite, Orange Lutheran, San Juan Capistrano JSerra and Santa Margarita, plans to begin three weeks of practice March 1 and start playing games March 20, with its season ending April 17, if it receives county approval, according to Anaheim Servite coach Troy Thomas.

Mission League coordinator Stephanie Contreras said plans are being drawn up to use campuses for cross-country courses for boys and girls dual meets if permits to use parks continue to be unavailable.

Youth sports competitions have been on hold in California for 10 months, but a growing number of club competitions took place in recent weeks at private facilities in basketball, volleyball, football and baseball. County health officials have done little to punish violators other than posting signs.

“The most frustrating thing for us is nothing is being done to the people violating the guidelines of the Stay At Home order.” Wigod said.

Longtime Crenshaw football coach Robert Garrett says the coronavirus isn’t the only struggle his players are dealing with in life.

In the City Section, the majority of schools are from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has not opened campuses for instruction and only briefly allowed schools to hold conditioning workouts in November before shutting them down because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The City Section would like to keep its cross-country championship because its athletes are from the same district, lessening transportation issues. But getting LAUSD to approve students to compete while not attending classes on campus remains an obstacle.

The City Section has moved its last possible date in football to April 30, with teams needing to begin practices by Feb. 22 to start playing March 19. The CIF sports medicine advisory committee approved the change as long as there is a 12-week gap between football seasons, according to City Section Commissioner Vicky Lagos. Other sections could follow suit.

Despite the bleak outlook, Studio City Harvard-Westlake head of athletics Terry Barnum insists hope is not lost for fall athletes. His school intends to prepare to play football whenever the guidelines allow until April 17 arrives, even if that means playing a single game.

“We’re going to be aggressive in following those guidelines,” he said.

Gardena Serra football coach Scott Altenberg said: “We think there’s got to be a way to do this safely. We’re committed to exhausting everything to get these kids on the field.”

Added Wigod: “It’s not over. There’s still time left in our fall sports season. … I don’t believe today is the day to tell our student-athletes we’re done fighting for them.”


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