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Scoffing Tightened Restrictions, California Youth Football Hits the Field

15 Jan, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The long and winding road of youth sports in California, stretching all the way to Arizona, then to Texas and Florida, as event owners scrambled to find places to host matches, just hit a big roadblock.

Following a surge in COVID cases,  officials are urging residents to limit all non-essential travel to within 120 miles from home and to avoid traveling to other neighboring states or counties. (A copy of the full order can be accessed here). Additionally, anyone traveling to or returning to the state is urged to self-quarantine for 10 days, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said in a statement.

A 120-mile range and a 10-day quarantine are not exactly what the youth sports community has been hoping to hear, considering, as CNN notes, the distance from Los Angeles to San Diego is approximately 120 miles, and the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco is approximately 381 miles. Many teams have been going as far afield as Texas, Florida and other destinations where restrictions were more lenient in order to compete in tournaments.

In December, the California Department of Public Health released the Return To Play (RTP) guidelines that event owners and athletes had been demanding for months. To the disappointment of those user groups, however, the rules sidelined many popular sports until January 25, at which, it was stated, time the matter would be revisited, and further announcements would be made.

Now, with the new travel restrictions in place, hopes are fading for many youth athletes who have been counting on out-of-state tournaments for play opportunities. It should be noted, however, that presently, the state officials’ recommendations on curtailing travel are just that: recommendations. Meaning, obviously, that teams wishing to play out of state and who have like-minded coaches and parents are probably going to be able to find an event in which to participate.

Of course, it appears not everyone is following the protocols; two Orange County high school teams engaged in an unsanctioned football game (and then, in typical high school fashion, bragged about it on social media). Officials were not happy, noting they were "looking into" the event. High school officials say they were justified in playing the game.

“Kids are getting destroyed – mentally, emotionally, and developmentally – but no one is looking at that,” Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick told the Southern California News Group. “We want to be safe. We want to do the right things and we want to be good for kids.”

According to the L.A. Times, under-the-radar games have been going on for some time:

"For weeks, games have been played by club teams in football, basketball, baseball and other sports in violation of state and local health guidelines. County health departments have done little to stop competitions other than posting signs and issuing warnings. A group of football players from the Bay Area have been driving down by bus this month to play in weekly club football competitions in Chino. The difference this last weekend was teams representing high schools playing in competitions.

Coach Eric Preszler of Capistrano Valley Christian tweeted, “Fired up to be 1-0 but more proud of the adversity these young men have pushed through and the challenge they have accepted.”

The CIF has said no games would be played until the governor and state public health guidelines allowed for them, which could lead to sanctions against member schools in violation. If the CIF decides it can’t take action because no bylaws were violated, then look for more private schools to move forward and play games in violation of state guidelines."

There is no shortage of events, if athletes are willing to travel. The recently released AAU calendar for certain events in 2021, for example, shows tournaments in Las Vegas, Orlando, Knoxville and other destinations, such as Texas, Georgia and Pennsylvania, are listed on the AAU website. Hype Nation Volleyball has events coming up in both Ohio and North Carolina and Halo LAX has a full schedule planned across the U.S. as well.But the travel restriction could be tightened and enforced.

California’s current guidance applies to all organized youth sports, including school programs, privately-organized programs and adult recreational sports. It does not apply to collegiate or professional sports. And, said CDPH, they have a good reason for applying their travel order.

“Intra-state travel … threatens to exacerbate community spread within California — particularly because travel itself (especially the use of shared conveyances in air, bus, or rail travel) can increase a person's chance of spreading and getting COVID-19,” CDPH said.

Teams that do elect to travel, despite the statewide ban are cautioned that the number of positive cases has been steadily rising, and that flouting the restrictions could cause an even bigger spike that could lead to, according to state officials, the enactment of "measures that are more restrictive than this statewide order." 

At this time, it looks like the next guidance should come from California next Monday. It is said to have taken into consideration the transmission rates as studied in early January.

Meanwhile, California is in the midst of vaccinations and it was recently announced that Disneyland will serve as a vaccination super-center. Despite the fact that the park as an attraction remains closed to visitors, it is an excellent point of distribution; it has plenty of parking, access roads to it are well marked and it is handicap-accessible. Other mass vaccination sites being rolled out include Dodgers Stadium, Padres Stadium, and CalExpo.

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