Athletes and coaches throughout Los Angeles County finally heard the announcement they have been waiting for: High school athletics are officially a go.
L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced Wednesday that the county would update its Protocols for Youth and Adult Sports League to align with the state’s guidelines, allowing outdoor sports to begin practice and competition this week.
It has been 11 months since an official high school game was played in L.A. County. Schools closed their doors last March to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and public health officials did not allow any competition or practice of any kind.
“I know how excited people are,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “I would say I hear from many, many, many parents about their desire and the need for their children to get back to playing sports that they love. I know that this is good news for so many.”
The California Department of Public Health recently updated its youth sports guidelines and will base the return of high school sports on each county’s adjusted case rate per 100,000 people. The threshold for outdoor sports to resume practice and competition is 14 cases or lower per 100,000 despite still being in the purple tier, which indicates widespread COVID-19 infection.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County reported that metric to be 12.3 per 100,000, allowing high-contact sports such as football and water polo to compete as long as players and coaches are tested for the coronavirus weekly. Results must be made available within 24 hours of competition.
All teams must obtain informed consent from parents or guardians of young athletes participating in a sport. Competitions are limited to two teams within a county or against a school from an adjacent county.
Ferrer urged schools to tread carefully because some of the largest outbreaks that were reported on campuses were associated with youth sports teams, not classroom activities.
“People have to follow the rules,” Ferrer said. “The rules are detailed, and they’re detailed for a reason. We think this can resume with a lot of safety, but then everybody has to play by those rules, and I would think sports teams — more than a lot of other sectors — are used to playing by rules. So I would urge everyone to take a hard look at what’s required, to put as much safety into this as possible so that it doesn’t end up hurting us as we continue to drive down community transmission rates across the county.”
However, indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball are not permitted by the state or the county. The California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section — the governing body for most high school athletics in Southern California — remains in discussions with California officials about the return of indoor athletics, but Commissioner Rob Wigod said that schools within counties that meet the threshold can schedule indoor sports — such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling — to be played outdoors.
Matt Hill, Burbank Unified School District superintendent, said local athletic directors and administrators are committed to giving student-athletes the opportunity to play in the safest way possible.
“Our coaches, athletic directors, assistant principals and principals have been developing plans for several months,” Hill said in an email. “They will continue to work through the details and will implement the plans over the next couple of weeks to ensure everyone is safe.”
Hill added that the district has been researching various testing options and is “close to reaching an agreement with a partner to help us with testing.”
In an effort to give high school fall sports teams as much of a regular season as possible, CIF officials canceled the fall playoffs due to state restrictions following a winter surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Football games can be scheduled as early as March 11 and the season must end by April 17. The boys’ and girls’ water polo season must end by March 20.
Cross-country athletes have been practicing for a few weeks and dual meets are being planned by school officials.
With a limited fall season, it is likely BUSD high schools will only schedule contests against league opponents.
“I got coaches talking to me about games and I go, ‘Guys, slow down. Let’s get practices down correctly first,’” said Steven Hubbell, assistant principal of athletics and activities at John Burroughs High School. “One thing we’ve been talking about among the league is we’re not going to do a preseason, and we’re definitely not traveling far.”
Another concern is space. Hubbell said it would be difficult to schedule practices and games for all levels of athletics while adhering to health and safety guidelines.
“If we put all the games on the schedule, we’re not going to have enough field space to do the practices,” Hubbell said. “One thing brought up is maybe we only have a varsity team. We want to give something to the seniors who haven’t had the opportunity the past year. We definitely want to give them something, but there are so many moving parts. We are coming up with solutions, but there are so many things that have to happen.”