Citing the spread of coronavirus cases as the culprit, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, Nov. 16, that California is considering delaying the release of new guidelines for high school and youth sports competition, a development that casts doubt on whether the already-delayed high school season will start on time next month.
Speaking during a news conference about the state’s response to the pandemic, Newsom said he reviewed guidelines for high school and youth sports to return to competition and “signed off” on them but added that he is considering delaying their release.
Since Aug. 3, high school and youth sports in the state have been limited to physical conditioning and skill training and prohibited from competition because of the coronavirus pandemic. The high school and youth sports communities have been waiting for weeks for an update, especially after Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said last week that an update would be ready soon.
“It’s incredibly important that we do our physical activity safely,” Newsom said. “Dr. Ghaly was talking about updates. I’ve reviewed the update. I signed off on it and then we have now looked to potentially pause it.”
Newsom said the reason for waiting to release the updated guidelines was the recent rise in the coronavirus numbers, which led to Monday’s announcement that counties with spiking metrics will now be moved back in the state’s tier system after just one week, not the previous two-week requirement.
Orange County, for example, was moved back to the purple tier (widespread risk) on Monday, joining Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
After Monday’s announcements, some area observers acknowledged they don’t believe high school sports will start as scheduled.
The boys volleyball season in the CIF Southern Section is scheduled to begin Dec. 12. Football and other sports practices are scheduled to start on Dec. 14 in the Southern and L.A. City sections.
Sections across the state have already delayed their seasons four months because of the pandemic and halted their seasons in mid-March.
The CIF State office acknowledged the governor’s statements Monday, saying in part in a release that the “current guidance remains in effect, and CIF competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided.”
Ron Nocetti, director of the Sacramento-based CIF State office, said he didn’t take Monday’s developments as a signal that the season won’t start on time. He remains hopeful that guidance from the state will arrive soon.
“It’s a good sign that they’re including us in the conversation,” he said. “I’m going to hold out hope we can achieve something down the road.”
But administrators, parents and coaches expressed their frustrations Monday.
“At this point, games are not going to start Dec. 12 like they’re supposed to,” said Chris Fore, a member of the newly-formed West Coast Coaching Alliance and principal at Palmdale Aerospace Academy.
“I think the governor’s office does owe kids a timeline. They’ve been shut down since March, not being able to compete. The sooner they they can give a timeline about sports coming back, the better it will be for student-athletes, and adults can make the needed adjustments.”
Alex Pierce, the football coach at Los Osos, acknowledged it’s been “frustrating because we have been waiting so long for some bit of clarification. We all are learning to adjust and be flexible, but it makes things really difficult to put together a plan because there really is no concrete information out there.
“We are all hoping for answers, but it seems like the only constant in this process is change.”
Laguna Hills football coach Mike Maceranka had already given his team the next two weeks off from conditioning because of the uncertainty.
“It is disappointing they keep pushing these guidelines off,” he said. “Without a concrete set of guidelines, we are all spinning our wheels. Without hope, kids will regress mentally in school, (and) physically on the field.”
Clark Phillips Sr., a father of three children involved in sports, agreed.
“I believe all of the parents understand that this is completely unprecedented, however, families need clarity,” he said. “Asking families to wait nine-plus months for clarity only adds to the frustration. While we may not like the information we receive, families and the student athletes deserve better communication.”
Ghaly again said guidelines would arrive soon but cautioned that the timing to release them now isn’t good because case rates are “going up very quickly.”
“Timing is everything with this,” he said. “We want to make sure that as we move forward with something as important as youth sports, we do it with eyes in front of us and hoping that (we) set it up for success, so as it happens, we don’t have to pause or stop it down the road.”
CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod described the situation as a “waiting game.” He pointed out that perhaps only league games would be played if seasons are delayed in the fall. “Viable league play will be a key element,” he said of possibility of playoffs.
Wigod also endorsed Ghaly’s recent comment that a county’s standing on a tier could relate to the type of sport activity allowed.
“That makes sense,” Wigod said.
But many coaches, athletic directors and parents are losing patience. As of last week, California was one
“We were hoping for guidance on sports a few weeks ago, and we’re still waiting,” said John Tibbels, the athletic director at Ramona High in Riverside. “And every time we look at the numbers in our county, they are going in the wrong direction for things to move forward. We haven’t given up hope, but time is starting to run out on that first season starting as planned.”
Bishop Amat football coach Steve Hagerty said he always expected this was “going to be a day-by-day or week-by-week thing,” so Monday’s announcement of another delay was not a surprise.
“With all the cases rising, they’re not going to open youth sports, and my thought process all along is if you’re not in school, you’re probably not playing,” Hagerty said. “But we’re all hopeful. If we end up playing five games, three games, or one game, it’s better than no games. We just want to see these guys have an opportunity to play on Friday nights.”
El Segundo athletic director Steve Shevlin sounded somewhat discouraged by the situation as it stands now.
“Things are so convoluted and up in the air,” Shevlin said. “Not every school has the ability to test, and with the numbers going up, I don’t see how we can get into the zone that will allow us to be competitive.”
One area athletic director, who didn’t want to be identified, spoke openly about his concerns after seeing recent developments. “It’s a little discouraging, to be honest with you,” the athletic director said. “Our kids need to go back, they need to be back. They need to be in school and they need to play sports. If we can get it, that would be amazing. But I don’t know.”
Lawndale football coach Travis Clark said he thinks it is becoming harder for the school’s athletes to be optimistic about the upcoming season, especially since the school still hasn’t been given the green light by the Centinela Valley Union High School District for teams to begin conditioning.
“With the spike in cases, it doesn’t look like a good thing that we will start on time,” Clark said. “Hopefully, we’re able to salvage some sort of season for the seniors.
“I haven’t seen my kids since March and I’m willing to do whatever as long as you give me a few weeks to prepare them.”
The state restrictions, written by the California Department of Public Health, have led many club teams to travel out of state to play games. Newsom mentioned Monday that a Southern California youth team recently went to Arizona for a tournament and came back with “a lot of positive cases, even young, healthy individuals tested positive, as well as their coach and some family members.”
Nocetti said he hoped Newsom’s cautionary tale about club teams competing out of state and the postponement of guidelines would inspire everyone concerned with high school athletics to follow safety protocols.
“That doesn’t help,” Nocetti said of the travel baseball story.
-Fred Robledo, Eric-Paul Johnson, Damian Calhoun and Robert Morales contributed to this report.