State Update Is a Mixed Bag for High School Athletes

A new directive from the California Department of Public Health leaves only fading hope for the playing of most high school sports during the 2020-21 school year, especially those scheduled for Season 1. Athletes, coaches, parents and administrators waited more than four months for the update on youth sports, and the news wasn’t good.
The directive, released on Monday, delays sports competitions between teams until at least Jan. 25. When the California Interscholastic Sports Federation — the governing body for prep athletics in the state — announced a revised schedule on July 20, fall sports were scheduled to begin as early as Dec. 19. Two weeks ago, the schedule was pushed back to Jan. 1. The return-to-competition date will be reassessed by Jan. 4.
In the meantime, teams are forbidden to participate in tournaments held outside of California, as had been common during the pandemic.
“It’s not surprising at all,” said Brian James, Burbank High School assistant principal of activities and athletics. “We talked about the surge happening after Thanksgiving and that is now the case, and now we have a major holiday coming through. We will just have to see what happens.”

Sports will be allowed based on a chart that follows California’s color-tiered metric on test positivity and adjusted case rates for COVID-19. The purple tier, indicating a “widespread” infection rate in a given area, means there are more than seven daily cases per 100,000 population. The red tier, indicating a “substantial” infection rate, means there are between four and seven daily cases per 100,000 population. The orange tier, indicating a “moderate” infection rate, means there are between one and 3.9 daily cases per 100,000 population. The yellow tier, indicating a “minimal” infection rate, is reached when there is less than one daily case per 100,000 population. According to data released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Tuesday, the county had an infection rate of 26.9 positive cases per 100,000.
To begin the playing of football games, for example, which had been scheduled to start in early January, a county would need to be in the moderate, or orange, tier.
“Some of my coaches are not happy with the tiered level of participation,” James said. “That is going to be extremely difficult for football based on the timeline of vaccinations.”
There is positive news, as outdoor sports such as tennis, golf, cross country, and track and field can be held if a county is in the purple tier. Sports allowed to be played in the red tier include baseball, field hockey and girls’ lacrosse. A county must be in the orange tier in order to begin competitions in football, badminton, gymnastics, boys’ lacrosse, soccer, volleyball and water polo. When and if the yellow tier is achieved, competitions will be expanded to include basketball, cheerleading and wrestling.
“We requested that all sports be conducted in the red tier and were hopeful that we would be allowed to proceed accordingly,” said Wigod in a press release that was distributed on Wednesday morning. “While that is not the case today, I want to assure you that the dialogue will continue between the CIF and the California Department of Public Health to try to advocate for the return of education-based athletics as soon as that can happen in a healthy and safe way.”
The Burbank Unified School District closed its doors in March and halted all extracurricular activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With permission from the county, the BUSD opened its facilities in early November to allow student-athletes and coaches back on campus for conditioning and light workouts. However, the district shut down all athletic activities on Nov. 30 due to concerns over the alarming surge of coronavirus cases in L.A. County.
Steven Hubbell, John Burroughs High School assistant principal of activities and athletics, remains hopeful but awaits an update from the county, which could be more restrictive than the state’s guidelines and protocols.
“There are many sports in the yellow and orange tiers, but we’ve never been in the yellow or orange. We, as L.A. County, have been in the purple tier the entire time. I don’t see superintendents even considering [playing athletics] at this point.”
Hubbell also expressed concern over the possible delay of seasons, which would be a logistical nightmare for administrators planning practices and games.
“We are going to have so many sports overlapping that they won’t even have enough time to practice,” he said.
School officials urged the Burbank community to do their part in helping student-athletes get back on the field sooner by adhering to the public health department’s recommendations.
“That’s what we’ve been saying from the start, and people are recognizing that messaging from before about keeping the numbers down,” James said. “We are getting far less pushback now from families seeing this incredible surge. Even with those with less concern before, I’m seeing greater acceptance of the decisions from the district and the county.”
On July 20, the CIF announced its updated schedule for the 2020-21 school year that retained all previous sports but employs a two-season format. The CIF’s new calendar postponed the beginning of the traditional fall season — Season 1 — with several sports being shuffled between seasons. Winter sports, such as basketball, were woven into spring sports, with regional or state playoffs ending June 19 and those offerings are now designated as Season 2.
“There is no doubt that we have significant challenges ahead of us,” Wigod concluded. “We must try to overcome those challenges with every effort we can make in support of our student-athletes. It is too important to them for us to not do everything we can do on their behalf to keep their dreams alive. Now is not the time to lose hope and I know I can count on you to continue to fight for what we all believe in.”

— Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.