By Tom Bequette, Online Sports Editor
// The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) announced on Friday, Feb. 19 that high school sports may start as early as Feb. 26 in parts of California. Contra Costa County (CCC), however, is excluded from this return and must wait for COVID-19 cases to drop.
The new plan relaxes state requirements to begin playing considerably as counties will only be judged on cases per capita and not their tiers. Even if a county is in the purple or red tier, schools may allow outdoor high-contact sports from the orange tier if the adjusted case rate is equal to or less than 14 per 100,000. 27 counties currently meet this requirement and can begin practicing on Feb. 26, but the other 31 counties, including CCC, cannot.
Acalanes High School Principal Travis Bell stressed that he will begin working with the CCC to put an extensive plan in place for when the county does meet the requirement.
“We are currently working with the [Acalanes Union High School District] and the Diablo Athletic League (DAL) to develop plans to begin to play and establish seasons for these Orange Tier sports. On Monday, Feb. 22, the DAL will meet to discuss the new guidelines, and outcomes will be communicated to student-athletes and families,” Bell said in a statement released to the Acalanes community on Friday.
While fall and winter outdoor teams like football and water polo may begin their season once the county reaches the required adjusted case rate, indoor sports, such as basketball and volleyball, cannot.
“When we are going to start indoor sports is a separate and more complicated issue, but it still remains our goal to have all sports have a season this year,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his press briefing on Friday.
To prevent the transmission of COVID-19, all students and coaches must wear masks and practice social distancing at all times. High contact sports will also undergo more extensive measures, such as weekly COVID-19 testing.
“Effectively, this means that some sports previously prohibited until the Orange Tier [like] football, water polo, boys lacrosse, and soccer may be played prior to our County reaching Orange Tier data as long as enhanced safety precautions, such as weekly testing, are utilized,” Bell said.
Only immediate household members may observe practices and competitions to avoid crowding and ensure social distancing. Additionally, inter-team competitions and tournaments may take place only if both teams are in the same county or are located in counties bordering one another and the sport is authorized. No tournaments with more than two teams can take place unless the local health department allows it.
The changes come after hundreds of Let Them Play protests, including one at Acalanes, campaigned for the return to youth sports across the state.
“I am so happy that the CIF made this change because it is something that we’ve worked hard for and because it will help all the athletes’ mental health in the long run, which has been challenged by COVID-19,” varsity football player and senior Brady Hutchingson said.
While COVID-19 requirements for sports loosened, Bell stressed that requirements for a return to school remain the same.
“The guidelines for opening schools for in-person learning remain the same,” Bell said. “We continue to await Red Tier data, [which is] 7 cases per 100,000, as a requirement for reopening our classrooms for in-person hybrid learning, but we remain optimistic about the positive trajectory of the case rates in our County. Reopening is on the horizon.”