High school football practice resumes after 11-month shutdown

Eric Sondheimer
·4 min read
CULVER CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Quarterbacks and Receivers at Culver City High School work on drills its first official football practice after an 11-month shutdown due to Covid-19 on {wdt} in Culver City, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Culver City players go through practice drills for the first time in 11 months. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this week, as he prepared his players for their first official football practice, Santa Ana Mater Dei High coach Bruce Rollinson tried to explain the challenges he and others faced during an 11-month sports shutdown in California because of the pandemic.

"The hardest thing I had to deal with is I'm the leader and had no answers," he said. "It was such an unfamiliar position to be in. Any problem that comes up, you try for a solution and want to plan. This time it was exhausting trying to keep them motivated. I started on my campaign we have to start to think what is it like to be 17. There were kids I was meeting with that were stressed. Their grades weren’t the same because it's hard to go to class for half a day. It's not their normal routine. A lot of times their outlet was football and that was uncertain. Then some were going home to parents stressed out and not sure they would be employed."

Fast forward to this week.

"I saw happiness in them and the excitement lining up for equipment," he said. "Yeah, it was chaos but good chaos. It was what they had waited for, and there was a trust factor coming back."

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Across California on Friday, full football practice was officially allowed in counties that had reached adjusted COVID-19 case rates of 14.0 or fewer per 100,000 people. At private and public schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties, teams began a two-week preparation process for games next month. The fall season was delayed on July 30, then delayed again in December because of the coronavirus.

There are obstacles to overcome. Coaches and players must be tested weekly before playing in games. Schools are awaiting guidance from the California Department of Public Health for what happens if there's a single positive test. One football coach says his league policy under consideration for a positive test is that the game would be canceled and the team would be sidelined for a minimum two weeks.

There's also the question of whether any spectators will be permitted at games. It will be up to schools to decide, but state guidelines recommend observation be limited to "immediate household members."

So every game and every practice figures to be precious because no one knows how smoothly this season will proceed. For Southern Section teams, the season has to end by April 17. For the City Section, the season ends April 30, but no Los Angeles Unified School District teams are playing or practicing for now.

Coaches have been scrambling to put together practice plans.

"Everything took so long and now it's go. It's cool," Gardena Serra coach Scott Altenberg said.

For seniors, Friday's first practices are a reward for not giving up when the chances of playing looked bleak at times.

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"We know there's no ring, no playoffs, but we want to put out for the city," said Culver City All-CIF quarterback Zevi Eckhaus.

Some top players headed to colleges in the fall on scholarship have opted out and will not play.

But others are playing, such as Notre Dame-bound Chance Tucker of Encino Crespi, and USC-bound Ceyair Wright of Loyola and Raesjon Davis of Mater Dei.

Culver City players go through the paces during their first practice in 11 months.
Crespi players go through the paces on Friday during their first practice in 11 months. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

While players in Los Angeles and Orange counties resume practices, players in Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties await for Tuesday to arrive to see whether the adjusted COVID-19 case rates reach the threshold needed.

Also allowed to resume on Friday were boys' and girls' water polo, while soccer teams in the Southern Section can start playing games as early as Saturday.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.