Indoor high school sports has scored a collective victory for a return to action in California, thanks to advocacy groups pushing for fairness and to study submitted data that prep sports are not superspreaders of COVID-19 – and the power of legal muscle.
The most pressing concern: the mental toll on student-athletes of all ages.
A group suing the state announced Thursday morning in San Diego that it reached a deal with the state that will allow all indoor and outdoor sports throughout California. San Diego-based attorney Stephen Grebing, who represented football players Nicholas Gardinera and Cameron Woolsey, won a pair of lawsuits against the state fighting for prep sports to reopen. Marlon Gardinera, Scripps Ranch football coach, announced the deal at a 10 a.m. news conference.
“We have reached a settlement with the state of California on our lawsuit, the terms of the temporary restraining order here in San Diego, allowing all student-athletes to return will now go into effect statewide,” Marlon Gardinera said. “All high school sports can begin in California.”
The new guidelines let kids play under safe guidelines and protocols, though the decision still falls to county health departments and school districts. The new guidelines also apply to youth club and recreation teams.
Grebing said some fans will be allowed at high school events, but that still is up to each school district or league. Each player will be allowed to invite up to four immediate family members. The guidelines will be released shortly, he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, speaking inside a gymnasium in Stockton at a news conference, said he has not reviewed the agreement and would not comment until he did.
“I haven’t had a chance to read the settlement,” he said. “I’ve learned this the hard way. Let me seek first to understand before you’re understood. Let me take time to read the details of the settlement. Forgive me.”
Grebing said revised guidelines may be posted by the California Department of Public Health by the end of the week, adding that each county still has to sign off.
“We’re going make sure that the (governing body California Interscholastic Federation) in each of these different locations, and the counties, agree to it,” he said.
The CIF released a statement from its Sacramento office which read, in part, “It is our understanding that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will be updating its Youth Sports Guidance. … It is further our understanding that the (legal) agreement is not yet available for review. We are therefore reserving comment.”
Prep boys and girls basketball, volleyball and wrestling could all play this spring. The Sac-Joaquin Section revised its calendar in January to allow all sports but football to play games until June 12. The move was designed to give schools flexibility if their sport was permitted to play under the tiers set by the California Department of Public Health.
Sacramento-area school administrators and school districts told The Bee that they would wait until youth sports guidelines are officially updated before commenting, or making decisions on seasons.
It still all comes across as encouraging news for coaches eager to get their kids back in action. Said Grant High School boys basketball coach Deonard Wilson, “Being around my players, I definitely know they need to play,” he said. “It’s not about getting seen for scholarships. It’s beyond that. It’s about their mental health. My kids are struggling. Kids everywhere are struggling. I know my administration wants us to have games. We’ll see what happens.”
Said Burbank High boys basketball coach Lindsey Ferrell, “We’ve been clinging to hope. I wonder, if football can go, what about basketball. Come on, now. We will do whatever we need to do. It’s been a year since these kids have played a real game. They need games. Kids are hurting.
“Tell us what we need to do to make it work, and we will make it work. Eight guys in a gym at once? I’ve got eight guys, and more. Let’s go.”
The group suing the state argued and won their case in district court. They argued the state was violating due process guaranteed by the Constitution. The lawsuit said it was unfair to create guidelines that applied to outdoor sports but not indoor sports.
Under the new deal, sports would be allowed to resume in counties 14 or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. In the weekly data update Tuesday, only four counties in the state had a rate more than 14 cases per 100,000.
The state will provide money for testing football, rugby and water polo teams. Other teams and players will be up to individual school districts.
The new rules are a big win for Let Them Play advocate and Wheatland boys and girls volleyball coach Bill Evans. He helped start the volleyball group that advocated for a safe and swift return to prep volleyball and other indoor sports.
“Today’s announcement is great news for CA indoor sport student-athletes,” Evans said by text. “There are still details around testing and of course now districts/leagues/sections have to work on schedules. ADs and Coaches of indoor sports will have to work together to balance gym time. I think transportation is also a key logistical piece to work out for matches/games. My hope is everyone works together and gives all indoor sports a chance at a season. Northern and Sac-Joaquin sections have given extensions for girls volleyball. Some other sections still haven’t moved on the 3/20 end date for girls volleyball so that needs attention”