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CDPH loosens restrictions on youth sports
Updated state guidelines increases hope for HS football season
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Aiden Nicolas tries to avoid a tackle in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game against Vista del Lago on Nov. 15, 2019. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Football and other high-contact outdoor sports are closer to returning at the youth and high school levels in the state. 

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health released updated guidelines that have relaxed restrictions on these sports that had been banned because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Football, soccer and water polo can now be played in counties that are still in the two most restrictive of the state's four-color tier designations, purple and red, with an adjusted case rate equal to or less than 14 per 100,000. Weekly testing, provided by the state, will be required for football and water polo athletes and coaches in counties where the adjusted case rate is between 7-14 per 100,000.

The CDPH previously required for counties to be in the orange tier for high-contact outdoor sports competitions to begin, which was unlikely to happen in the 2020-21 academic school year for most areas in the state. Now, 27 of the state's 58 counties meet the new requirement under the updated protocols. 

San Joaquin County still has some work to do to get there with an adjusted case rate of 25.1 as of Friday. Nearby Stanislaus County is in worse shape at 31.3. Official practices for these high-contact outdoor sports may begin as soon as next Friday, Feb. 26 in counties that reach the requisite adjusted case rate.

“It's a step in the right direction,” Ripon High football and boys golf coach Chris Musseman said. He anticipates his schedule to get much busier in the coming weeks, but he welcomes the prospect of having to split his attention between two sets of student-athletes if it means they'll finally get their chance to compete again.

It's not good news for all sports, as indoor volleyball has been moved from the orange tier to yellow, joining basketball and wrestling. 

High school athletics have been put on hold since mid-March when the statewide shutdown began in response to the pandemic. California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for high school sports in the state, called off its annual basketball championships and later all postseason events for the spring.

Cross country, golf, tennis and swimming have returned to action in the last week for high schools in the Manteca area. Under the previous guidelines, only low-contact outdoor sports — including track and field — were allowed in the purple tier. The per-capita metric also affects outdoor moderate-contact sports baseball and softball, which were previously allowed in the red tier.

If high- and moderate-contact sports do resume in a county that hits the 14-and-under requirement, competition is not required to stop if the adjusted case rate exceeds that mark during that sport's season.  

The Sac-Joaquin Section, the second largest of the 10 Sections under the CIF, requires its sports teams to practice five days before beginning competition. Football teams are required to have 14 practices before their first game, but the SJS stated in a memo released Friday that five days of acclimatization may begin immediately. 

That means the first football contests can be played no earlier than March 12 if the teams in the county are allowed to begin official practices between Feb. 26-March 1. 

For health and safety reasons, the CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has set a deadline of April 17 for the final football games to take place, but the SJS plans to hold discussions on a later end date. The Central Coast Section has already announced that it has pushed its final football games back to April 30-May 1.

“God help us, we gotta get these kids back on the field at this point,” Musseman said. His football team had been conditioning four days a week since June before recently cutting back to twice a week. He added that with limitations on equipment use in practices it has been a challenge to come up with new ways of keeping the student-athletes engaged.

“If we don't get to the 14, I worry about the mental health of these kids,” Musseman said. “They've been riding this roller coaster for almost a year. Our numbers have fallen off unbelievably the last two to three weeks. It's been tough. The seniors especially are at their breaking point.”