CA Student Athletes Benched Amid Coronavirus Surge

Ashley Ludwig

ORANGE COUNTY, CA —The return to youth sports was halted once again amid an unprecedented spike in new coronavirus cases. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom broke the news during a news briefing that Orange County, along with 27 other counties across the state, was returning to the most restrictive tier in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

According to the governor's office, 94 percent of California residents will shift to the state's most restrictive tier for the foreseeable future, effective Tuesday.

California is "pulling the emergency brake" and will reassess data daily, no longer waiting for Tuesday's to determine how counties should be responding to the coronavirus pandemic within their borders.

Within that purple tier, Orange County will experience changes starting this week:

  • Restaurants, fitness centers, places of worship must all cease indoor operations.

  • Movie theaters must close indoor operations.

  • Stores currently allowed at 50 percent capacity will reduce capacity to 25 percent, no food courts.

  • Schools that are already engaged in "in-person learning" can continue to do so. However, schools not yet in classroom sessions must remain virtual.

  • Youth sports will stay at a "non-competitive" play for the foreseeable future.

Due to the "extreme circumstances" surrounding the rapid reversal tiers across the state, according to Orange County Health Care Agency, counties will be required to implement any sector changes the day following the tier announcement.

This dimmed the hopes of student athletes working toward returning to competitive play in both high school and club sports.

After numerous local officials have launched campaigns aimed at "letting the kids play," and even more competitive club teams have crossed state lines to play where competition is allowed, Newsom cited one example of a team where a baseball team's members contracted coronavirus while playing in Arizona, and brought coronavirus home with them.

According to Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, if student athletes could play in California, where strict controls could be measured over contacts during games, the spread of coronavirus would be a non-starter. Wagner is leading the charge to "Open Cal Now."

"Science says that children can and should be allowed to "get out and play," Wagner says. "It's our job to look at science and advocate for them. We heard the ways our children are practicing safely today. We need to let them play games and compete, too."

Read: SoCal Sports Advocates Challenge Gov. Newsom To Let Kids Compete

The President of the California Youth Soccer Organization and executive director for Presidio League, Bob Turner, says "enough is enough" regarding the ongoing moratorium on competitive play in California.

In the spring, sports clubs and leagues shut down due to the coronavirus. During the slow start back, coaches and leagues worked to develop a health and safety protocol for return to play. Sports leaders flipped the script to focus on health and safety measures rather than just competition and skills. When training was shut down, they switched again to accommodate "camp" style play. Each player was asked to wear a mask, socially distance, temperature-check, and keep to their own equipment.

"If a parent won't wear a mask on the sidelines, that game will be forfeit. This is way more excessive than what is happening in Arizona," Turner said. "The kids are asking, 'What about us?'" he said. "We're supposed to be the adults. We should be advocating for the kids."

Newsom admitted that though the youth sports updates were ready to be signed off on, the state determined to slow things down amid the rising coronavirus cases. "[A Youth Sports Update] is close, and has been for a couple of weeks," said Dr. Mark Ghaly the state's health secretary. "But with case rates going up quickly, timing is everything, and as we move forward, we don't want to have to pause or stop" once those athletes are allowed to return to competitive play.

CIF responded in a tweet that the new state guidance is postponed, and therefore, the current direction remains in effect. "CIF competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided," a CIF spokesperson said.

"I was one of those athletes, and have a lot of friends with children active in high school and club sports," Gov. Newsom said in Monday's briefing. "My heart goes out in empathy to all of them."

According to Newsom and Ghaly, the state "has the guidelines and has built the parameters, and has put a lot of work into this."

According to Ghaly, local health officers up and down California are focused on the return to competitive play due to enormous interest.

"Over the past four or five days, I've gotten over 1,000 emails about youth sports regarding student-athletes and the issues raised with competitive sports," Ghaly said.

The state is first looking at activities with "lower risk, at a distance with little mixing, vs. high contact sports that occur indoors," Ghaly said. Once the spike in coronavirus numbers subside, Ghaly reported that the state will once again focus on" releasing a youth sports guideline, working with the CIF, moving forward with one voice."

What are your thoughts on letting student-athletes return to play? Tell us in comments, or email your Patch Editor. We want to give your student-athlete a voice.

This article originally appeared on the Mission Viejo Patch