Outdoor youth sports will soon be allowed to resume in California counties that meet a threshold for coronavirus cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.
Outdoor team sports like football and baseball will be allowed to resume as early as next Friday, Newsom said during a briefing in Hayward on the pandemic.
While indoor team sports competitions are still prohibited, outdoor youth sports will be permitted in counties that have an average of fewer than 14 new cases per day per 100,000 residents.
"We've been happy to see more of our student-athletes active as our programs are able to start back up according to guidance from the California Interscholastic Federation," Pleasanton Unified School District Superintendent David Haglund told the Weekly on Tuesday.
"Parents have expressed joy and excitement of dropping students off for practice, as we expand our sports camps in collaboration with the EBAL and our coaches to provide more opportunities," he added. "As the CIF guidance is tied to our state and county's color-tiered system, we encourage our community to continue to help drive our COVID-19 numbers down by wearing masks and practicing safe social distancing."
As of last week, 27 counties across the state met that threshold, including Alameda, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties.
"The fact that kids are not even in school and don't even have the ability to organize around sports, it's impacting them in profound and significant and, in many cases, deleterious ways," Newsom said.
While coronavirus cases are trending down statewide, Newsom noted that the state's test positivity rate, now at 3.1%, was at 9.9% just 30 days ago.
Given the potential for another outbreak before the state can achieve vaccination-induced herd immunity, Newsom said student-athletes in some contact sports like football will be subject to regular testing, which will be subsidized by the state.
"We are confident that if we can resume, it will only help enliven the capacity of these kids to feel more engaged, feel more alive," Newsom said.
Let Them Play CA, a group of youth sports coaches and student athletes across the state that have advocated for sports to resume, lauded Newsom and state health officials for lifting the ban.
"From the moment the governor called us to say he would work with us to help get sports back for kids, it has been a methodical march to get to this wonderful place," Let Them Play CA said in a joint statement with the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community.
"It has not been easy; there were many bumps along the way, but good people kept working together to create a positive outcome for our most 'essential business'- our kids."
One member of the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community, De La Salle head football coach Justin Alumbaugh, said his involvement grew out of the despair he and Serra High School football coach Patrick Walsh felt in December when their players were only able to participate in practices and workouts.
"We were trying to do as much as we possibly could to keep them busy, frankly, not necessarily preparing them for a football season," Alumbaugh said during a virtual news conference. "We felt hopeless."
Alumbaugh, also a teacher at De La Salle, said when his students heard Friday morning that sports would be resuming, he hadn't seen "that many smiles in 11-and-a-half months."
The resumption of games is not expected to be hampered by potential rises in new cases, according to Walsh, who said it will operate similar to the way schools that have opened for in-person classes were allowed to remain open despite the state's winter surge.
Assuming their schedules are not interrupted, prep football teams are expected to play roughly a half-dozen games depending on the high school sports section in which they play.
Despite criticism of high school sports resuming before the state has a concrete plan to reopen schools, Alumbaugh argued that kids shouldn't continue being penalized for something that's out of their control.
"We've punished kids enough," he said. "And today, a lot of that punishment stopped."
-- Story by Bay City News Service. Weekly editor Jeremy Walsh contributed localized information.