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CDPH loosens restrictions on youth sports
• Updated state guidelines increase hopes for high school football season
Verlis Smith rope
COVID-19 case rates have to be met before Ceres High’s Verlis Smith and other Stanislaus County athletes can play football this school year. - photo by Dale Butler

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. 

Stanislaus County still has some work to do to get there with an adjusted case rate of 31.3 as of Feb. 19. Official practices for these high-contact outdoor sports may begin as soon as next this Friday in counties that reach the requisite adjusted case rate.

“I was in my sixth period class with varsity football when we got the news,” Central Valley football and baseball head coach Derrick Goblirsch said. “There was a little jolt of excitement. It’s a big step in the right direction. But we’re still not where we need to be.”

“I was in class when I heard the news,” Ceres High senior standout football player Amare Padilla said. “I was getting a bunch of text messages from my teammates and friends. My mom saw it before me. I’ll be totally excited if we have a season. But it’s something I’m not really counting on. The reality is, I understand we might not get to play. It’s something I still have hope for. Football brings joy to my life and is something I look forward to.”

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 Ceres 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.

“As coaches, we’re starting to prepare our plans as if we’re going to start sooner,” Goblirsch stated. “With the acclimation period and the required practice times, they (the CIF) said we could play somewhere between three to five games. But we don’t what to get our hopes up because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Everything happened so fast,” Central Valley athletic director Greg Magni said. “Obviously we’re going to follow all the rules and do what’s best for the kids.”

Courier reporter Dale Butler contributed to this report.