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Return of high school sports in Southern California: What you need to know

Corona Centennial wide receiver Gary Bryant evades Corona defenders for a touchdown in 2017.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The California Department of Public Health announced its youth sports update on Friday, which provides a path forward for a resumption of high school sports beyond the purple tier sports of cross-country, golf, tennis and track and field.

Restrictions for high-contact outdoor sports have been relaxed, although most Southern California counties need cases to continue to decline to meet the requirement to restart sports such as football, field hockey, rugby and water polo.

Here are answers to questions you might have.

When will football season begin?

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The Southern Section says football teams must complete their seasons by April 17. Teams are required to have a minimum 14 days of practice before playing their first game. The first practice day can be Tuesday if a county reaches a COVID-19 case rate of 14 per 100,000. Weekly testing of players and coaches will be required. Those that have been conditioning for weeks should be able to play games by March 18 or earlier and perhaps get in a five-game schedule with a scrimmage.

Will these new guidelines help Los Angeles Unified School District teams begin playing games?

That remains to be seen. Superintendent Austin Beutner said in November if it’s not safe enough for students to be in classrooms, then it’s not safe enough to play sports. UTLA wants teachers to be vaccinated before returning students to classrooms.

Beutner has been unwilling to allow students in distant learning to participate on sports teams. LAUSD teams haven’t been allowed to engage in conditioning since early December when campuses were closed because of the COVID-19 surge despite requiring students to be tested weekly. School board president Kelly Gonez said Thursday conditioning should resume in the “next few weeks.” Teams in the City Section must complete their football schedule by April 30.

Will independent charter schools in the City Section be allowed to play games?

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It will be up to each school, and early indications are independent charter schools such as El Camino Real and Birmingham intend to let their students participate in sports activities even if they are not in classrooms.

When will indoor sports begin?

Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “That’s a separate conversation and more complicated.” In other words, unless cases continue to plunge and put counties in orange and yellow tiers, sports such as basketball and volleyball for boys and girls will be hard pressed to begin unless played outdoors. The CIF will continue to advocate as case rates decline.

How will testing work?

Some schools and districts already have started their own testing programs. There will be further information from the state on how it will work with local counties and schools to provide access to testing and how to handle positive tests for the sports of water polo and football, where weekly testing will be required.

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What happens if a school opts out of playing any games?

Athletes who don’t participate on a team are eligible to transfer with no eligibility restrictions for the 2021-22 school year. So if the LAUSD decides not to have football, every student would have the option of switching schools and be eligible immediately this fall without having to change residences. Also if a district or school discontinues a sport, athletes can seek a hardship waiver to be eligible this school year. Sections have up to 20 days to approve hardship waivers.

High school sports such as football and water polo will be allowed in California starting Feb. 26, with weekly testing in counties in more restrictive tiers.

Can students play club sports and high school sports at the same time?

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Yes, except for football. The CIF has given a waiver until the end of the school year allowing students to compete simultaneously with their high school and club teams, which should help those involved in soccer and volleyball if those sports are allowed. Football players cannot play high school and club football at the same time. CIF rules still prohibit coaches from having any association with their athletes on Sundays during the season of their sport, club or high school.

What safety measures will be in place?

The CIF has created safety protocols for each sport, requiring masks, social distancing when possible and other measures based on recommendations from the CDC, its medical advisory committee, the National High School Federation Assn., and from experiences in other states that held sports competitions.

Can fans attend games?

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Immediate household members are allowed at contests, leaving it up to schools to decide who fits into that category.

Will there be state championships?

State championships are unlikely to happen in sports such as track and field and volleyball unless travel restrictions are revised and the current rule allowing only dual meets is changed. It also will be difficult to hold championships in large sections such as the Southern Section, where schools come from seven counties. The Southern Section will decide in April about its spring championships.


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