Top California health official promises new guidance soon for high school, youth sports competition – Press Enterprise

The secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency delivered on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at least a partial update that many in the high school and youth sports communities have been longing to hear.

Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a teleconference with reporters that new guidelines for competition in high school and youth sports will be coming “soon” and revealed that a county’s standing in the state COVID-19 tier system could determine what type of competition is allowed.

“We are working closely with CIF and other youth sports leaders, interscholastic sports leaders, to ensure that we are aligned in the guidance,” said Ghaly, whose agency oversees the guideline-producing California Department of Public Health.

“It will provide clarity as to when competition can take place.”

Ghaly discussed a timetable for the guidelines in general terms when he addressed youth sports in California amid the pandemic. Youth and high school sports have been limited since Aug. 3 to conditioning and skill work and prohibited from competition.

He also mentioned potential guidelines on Oct. 20, prompting many in the high school and youth sports community to wonder about a timetable.

“We are close,” he said of the guidelines. “These are not easy guidances to put together. There’s not just the competition issue, but there’s the conditioning issue. There’s understanding how we continue to drive through our equity lenses to make sure that there’s important, broad access to all of these opportunities. … I hope that we find a way to hold on a little longer.”

The Sacramento-based CIF State office, which oversees more than 800,000 high school athletes across the state, announced July 20 that its first competition start dates would be pushed back four months to mid-December.

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In the Southern Section, the largest section in the state, boys volleyball is scheduled to kick off the revised sports calendar on Dec. 12 with football practices starting Dec. 14.

The L.A. City Section also has targeted practices beginning on Dec. 14 but is considering revamping its fall schedule, Commissioner  Vicky Lagos said Tuesday. The Los Angeles Unified School District, a major part of the L.A. City Section, began athletic conditioning on Monday, Nov. 9.

CIF State commissioner Ron Nocetti didn’t want to speculate on what Ghaly’s comments could mean for the high school calendar, but he remained grateful to be part of the efforts to bring back competition.

“I appreciate them working to include us in the conversation,” he said of state health officials. “Until we hear otherwise, (our calendars are) our plans. Our schools need to prepare for that.”

Ghaly also addressed speculation that a county’s standing on the state’s COVID-19 tier system could determine the level of activity allowed in high school athletics. Orange County, for example, remains in the red tier (substantial risk) while Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino are in the purple tier (widespread risk).

“With lower degrees of transmission, either generally across the state or in specific regions or counties in the state, there is tolerance for additional — even some of the higher-risk sports — to occur, not just from the conditioning but the competition perspective,” Ghaly said.

“And when we’re seeing high rates of transmission or counties that have been in the purple and even the red tiers longest, that they may not have as many of the higher risk sports return right away. But all of this will be released soon. (We’re) working through some of those final details.”

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The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has classified sports such as football, wrestling, boys lacrosse and competitive cheers as higher risk sports in its guidance for reopening high school athletics.

It’s not clear whether state health officials will follow the NFHS guidelines on assessing the risk of sports.

CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod said on Monday, Nov. 9, that it’s been frustrating waiting to learn what type of athletics might be allowed in a specific tier. But the wait could soon be over.

“We’re looking forward to seeing their updated guidance,” Nocetti said.

Mina Rose, a parent of a soccer player at Mater Dei High, remained frustrated after Ghaly’s comments. She cited California families in club soccer and baseball traveling to Arizona to play games. She fears more delays are ahead for youth and high school sports in California.

“I can go to the gym, hot yoga but my daughter can’t play soccer (games) outdoors,” she said. “It’s frustrating because they’re not stopping people from playing. They’re just driving parents crazy.”

Ghaly sympathized with parents and addressed out-of-state travel.

“Moving into states and other areas with higher transmission is risky,” he said. “We want to find ways to discourage people from traveling long distances to play other teams, to play local teams, because it’s allowed there.

“We know that these are difficult times. We are working to make sure that we have solutions.”