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.
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.”