High school sports could be starting sooner than later

Reece Robles, a two-time nationals qualifier and San Diego Section champion, had his senior year cut short at Granite Hills High School in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is now competing as a freshman at Grand Canyon University in Arizona.

The California Department of Public Health appears to have spoken on when and how it is prudent to conduct high school and youth sports com­petitions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The California Interscholas­tic Federation and San Diego Section appear to have done due diligence in conforming to those protocols.

Now it is up to individual schools and school districts across San Diego and Imperial counties, including the Gross­mont Union High School Dis­trict, to weigh in on the matter.

The CDPH issued its latest list of guidelines on Dec. 14 based on sport-specific risk as­sessment and tier assignment.

While those updated guide­lines didn’t necessarily line up with what the State CIF Of­fice had rather painstakingly cobbled together in July, and then updated in October, as a blueprint to move forward, the state’s 10 section commission­ers welcomed the information.

Obviously, additional tweak­ing was necessary to proceed with a projected Jan. 25 start to begin practice for Season 1 high school sports.

New timeline

San Diego Section Commis­sioner Joe Heinz issued a memo on Jan. 13 to provide an update on the timelines and process that will be followed to offi­cially open the athletic seasons for each sport over the next two months.

Among the tweaks was to move swimming and diving from Season 2 to Season 1 and, correspondingly, move water polo from Season 1 to Season 2.

“This move was made based upon its Purple Tier assign­ment that was provided with the updated Youth Sports Guid­ance released back on Dec. 14,” Heinz said. “With swim and dive being assigned to the Pur­ple Tier, and both boys and girls water polo being assigned to the Orange Tier, this move enables additional athletic opportuni­ties for the student athletes of our section throughout the period in which our counties — Riverside, San Diego, Imperial — remain in the most restrictive tier.”

Both cross country and swim/ dive can begin official practices on Feb. 1 under the current Pur­ple Tier restrictions.

However, there are additional restrictions that must be met that go beyond the state pub­lic health department’s youth guidelines.

While the state and CIF sec­tions have approved timelines for specific sports, they must be further given approval by individual schools and school districts.

Also, the current guidance does not permit any competi­tions while a region is under the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

San Diego County remains a part of the Southern Califor­nia geographic region along with Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Ber­nardino, Riverside and Impe­rial counties. All those counties currently remain in the Purple Tier, which is the most restric­tive. All eight counties continue to remain under the governor’s stay-at-home order.

The timeline for a return to the playing field gets a bit more complicated from there. The remainder of Season 1 sports — badminton, competi­tive cheer, field hockey, football, girls volleyball, gymnastics and roller hockey — will be able to officially open their seasons for practice once those sports reach the point in which their sport is within one tier level of their assigned tier, where athletic competitions are permitted for the sport.

Heniz provided an example.

Field hockey, which is classi­fied in the Red Tier, would be able begin its season once the Southern California region is off the stay-at-home order yet continues in the Purple Tier, he said.

“All of our sports in the Or­ange Tier, would be able to of­ficially begin their season once the county of each member school’s residence reaches the Red Tier,” he added.

Badminton, gymnastics, vol­leyball, football and water polo are all classified in the Orange Tier, which means those sports could begin practices once the county reaches the Red Tier.

With distribution of vaccines up, the wait may not be as long as some might imagine.

“We are excited to start prac­tice and get swimmers and div­ers back to the pool,” Granite Hills coach Cathy Elgas said. “It’s very important for the mental health of the student-athletes. Their lives have been turned upside down, so getting back to some sort of normalcy is exciting. We realize with this pandemic that it won’t be a perfect season, but at least the athletes have something to look forward to.

“We will learn what we can and cannot do during the sea­son depending on the tier we are in. Getting everyone informed and cleared in two weeks will be challenging, but we are excited and accept the challenge to get these student-athletes back in the water.”


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