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New California sports guidelines to allow football in many counties starting Feb. 26

St. John Bosco free safety Jake Newman, left, and cornerback Josh Alford, right, pursue Mater Dei wide receiver Kody Epps.
St. John Bosco free safety Jake Newman, left, and cornerback Josh Alford, right, pursue Mater Dei wide receiver Kody Epps during a game in October 2019.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The California Department of Public Health released its much-anticipated youth sports update Friday after weeks of talks with coaches and CIF officials while seeing a major decline in coronavirus cases, clearing the way for high school football and other outdoor sports to resume on Feb. 26.

The CDPH announced that high-contact sports such as football, field hockey, rugby and water polo, with participants ages 13 and older, can be played in counties with an adjusted daily case rate of 14.0 or fewer per 100,000 population, along with regular weekly testing for athletes and coaches. L.A. County, though, currently has a case rate of 17.6 per 100,000, and its teams would not qualify.

Last March, high school sports came to a halt in California when campuses were shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. In July, the CIF, the state’s governing body for high school sports, delayed the 2020-21 fall sports season until December. State health guidelines prohibited competitive sports for months even though most other states continued to hold competitions.

Mira Costa High sophomore Sydney Huber, 15, will compete in the World Indoor Rowing Championships under-19 division from home at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

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Either antigen or PCR testing will be required for all participants and coaches. The state will work with schools to connect them with testing sites, particularly public schools in the hardest-hit communities.

“We’ve been looking at data and science. We are now confident with new guidelines we can get youth sports running again,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Friday. He added the state will help absorb the costs of testing. When it comes to indoor sports, Newsom said, “That’s a separate conversation and more complicated.”

The updated guidance will allow outdoor, high-contact sports in counties in the more-restrictive purple and red tiers if they meet the case-rate requirements.

“It’s very much a positive way forward,” said Ron Nocetti, executive director of the CIF.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the Golden State Football Coaches Community was formed. San Mateo Serra‘s Patrick Walsh and San Diego Torrey Pines’ Ron Gladnick helped gather data from around the state and country before beginning talks with officials in Newsom’s office to try to build support for reopening youth sports.

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“Whatever they present is the way we’re moving forward,” Walsh said of CDPH guidelines. “It’s uniquely better than what we have now.”

A Facebook parents group, Let Them Play Ca., began organizing rallies in support of resuming sports. Brad Hensley of the Let Them Play Ca. movement is optimistic that the current trend of declining cases will allow most counties to soon resume outdoor sports.

“Cases have been going down by five to 10 per week, so there is some optimism here,” Hensley told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “This isn’t perfect, but nobody expected it would be. Give it a little time because I think we’re on our way.”

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The biggest reason schools now have a chance to play football and other sports is the steep drop in transmission rates. As of Tuesday, case rates in 47 of the state’s 58 counties had fallen enough to allow some level of classroom instruction.

“That’s awesome,” Hueneme football coach Jon Mack said of the new guidance. “I am so appreciative to coach real football and give our kids a chance to compete.”

In San Diego County, a Superior Court judge ruled all sports could resume immediately in the county as long as they “follow the same or similar COVID-19 protocols imposed for competition in professional and/or collegiate sports within the county.”

Superior Court Judge Earl Maas heard arguments Friday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by Nicholas Gardinera, a senior football player at Scripps Ranch High, and Cameron Woolsey, a senior football player at Mission Hills High, against Newsom, the CDPH, the county and its chief medical officer, Wilma Wooten.

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The players were seeking the resumption of high school football, saying there “is no medical evidence that competing in team sports is safe for college and/or professional athletes, but not high school athletes.”


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