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New state guidelines allow for youth sports return

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The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released new guidance on returning to competition for youth and recreational adult sports, but Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham believes it should have happened a lot sooner.

LET THEM PLAY Local football, soccer, and water polo programs could be back up and running again soon under new state guidance for youth sports. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLI COLE
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Kelli Cole
  • LET THEM PLAY Local football, soccer, and water polo programs could be back up and running again soon under new state guidance for youth sports.

The guidelines, which take effect beginning Feb. 26, categorize sports based on the level of contact between participants. Low contact sports are those which allow 6 feet of distance and consistent mask wearing; medium contact are those with only occasional contact between players; and high contact is defined as sports with frequent or sustained close contact.

CDPH then matched these categories with the Blueprint for a Safer Economy tiered reopening system. Counties in the purple, widespread tier can bring back outdoor, low contact sports. Red tier counties can bring back outdoor, moderate contact sports. Higher contact and indoor sports are allowed in the orange and yellow tiers.

As of Feb. 23 assignments, Santa Barbara and SLO counties remain in the purple tier. The state guidelines include a full list of sports that are allowed to compete in the widespread tier, such as cross country, track and field, singles tennis, swimming and diving, golf, and other low contact sports.

Cunningham, who has advocated for the return of youth sports during the pandemic, doesn't agree with the state's move to link the return of sports to the county tier system.

"That's basically a roundabout way of tying the reopening of youth sports to positive cases in the community," Cunningham told New Times. "But I've been arguing for eight or nine months to California Department of Public Health, the governor's office, and anyone who will listen, that this whole thing should be tied to hospitalization and ICU capacity, not to positive cases."

The lawmaker added that, in his opinion, the return to youth sports competition should have happened months ago.

"More than 40 other states have allowed youth sports to return," he said. "The fact that it's taken this long, and we had to build a statewide coalition of coaches and parents and young athletes, meet with the governor over and over and over again, beg for being allowed back on the field, it's just really absurd."

However, Cunningham added that allowing any sports back is a step in the right direction.

"The new guidance isn't a touchdown, but it's positive yardage," he said. "And right now, I'll take whatever we can get in terms of positive yardage. ... Because our kids need something. At least this gets some back in practice, at least they can get back on the field."

Atascadero High School Athletic Director Sam DeRose told New Times that he's looking forward to having more kids back on the field, after so many months of uncertainty and "planning with a pencil."

"We are just absolutely ecstatic for this opportunity," he said. "We were pending those directions. The new guidance opened up the opportunity for some other sports that had initially been postponed, so that's wonderful."

A number of programs are already up and running at San Luis Obispo High School, according to Athletic Director Marci Beddall, including cross country and singles tennis. Under the new guidelines, Beddall said soccer, football, and water polo teams could be back on the field and in the water at San Luis High soon too.

But in order to conduct outdoor high-contact sports competitions, the state requires weekly COVID-19 testing of athletes and coaches. Scheduling competitions and practices for all these sports that would normally occur in different seasons could also prove challenging for the county's athletic facilities. It's still unclear how that will all play out, Beddall said, but SLO County's athletic directors are intent on figuring it out for their kids. While some will continue their athletic careers in college and maybe even professionally, she said these high school years are precious to most kids, especially seniors.

"For the majority of our athletes this is it, this is all they're going to experience," she said. "So to miss out on your senior year is devestating." Δ

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