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.”
Football players began practicing in pads on Friday and games can be played as early as Thursday, March 11, in L.A. 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.
The Glendale Unified School District has shown its commitment to providing as many in-person services as possible, and officials are working on developing a schedule for high school sports teams. A GUSD official said the district is meeting with Valencia Branch Laboratory on Monday to discuss testing for student-athletes and coaches.
“Athletics play a vital role in supporting our students’ physical and social emotional wellbeing,” GUSD Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a statement. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, every decision our Board of Education and district leadership has made about offering in-person services and reopening schools has been guided by science and followed direction from our California and Los Angeles Health Departments and the CDC. Based on current Public Health guidelines, we are excited for the opportunity to slowly and deliberately resume athletic practices and competition while ensuring the health and safety of our students and employees.”
Crescenta Valley High School assistant principal Jordan Lessem said he hoped to “gear up all sports by Tuesday.”
“I am very excited about the new sports guidelines,” he wrote in an email. “We are preparing to play. We are finalizing our testing protocols for contact sports. Our fall sports kids have been conditioning with the hopes of having some season, and I am so glad we will be able to provide an experience for them.”