Preparation for a football season has begun at Santa Cruz High. Will it possibly be able to happen?
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID K-12

Will new California high school sports guidelines sack or save football in Santa Cruz County?

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s changes Friday enable “moderate contact” sports — baseball, softball and lacrosse — to be cleared for seasons without COVID-19 testing. But “high contact” outdoor sports — including football, boys and girls soccer, and water polo — will be subject to once-a-week testing requirements, posing logistical problems for some schools.

While an abbreviated football season might’ve become a reality for some high schools in California based on new state guidelines released Friday, Santa Cruz County high school football stakeholders worry that the math won’t add up here due to COVID-testing requirements.

The county is well under the case rate threshold needed to play contact sports — you must be under 14 cases per 100,000 and Santa Cruz is at 10.4 — Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Public Health Department’s revisions to the guidelines mandate once-a-week testing for coaches and athletes in outdoor contact sports.

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“We’re going to do our best, but we’re just gonna need more information,” said Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League commissioner Bob Kittle. “That’s a pretty big bomb to drop. You guys can play, but you’ve got to test everybody once a week.”

Kittle and the county athletic directors, principals and coaches have spent the sports-less winter piecing together a plan that would get as many kids back into some type of sports competition — “even if it was just one game” — before the 2020-21 school year ended.

The agreement to bring multiple leagues back together as one united county league went well, but the plan never involved testing, Kittle said.

“I’m excited that they’ve opened up the possibility a little wider, but the testing is going to be a very big asking point,” said Santa Cruz High football coach Jesse Trumbull.

While Newsom said Friday that the state would incur the cost of testing, the practical details seem like a stretch to the coaches who have been trying to keep their kids prepared and committed to the moving target of a truncated season. Private school teams might have an easier time securing tests than those at public schools, athletic officials say.

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“Beyond the funding it’s a logistical thing. How do you practice if you’re waiting on tests? Do you get enough practice in to safely play a game on Friday night?” asked Trumbull.

“And then you restart the cycle with a new test on Monday morning. So there are so many logistical things and safety issues to work out with it before you even talk about who foots the bill.”

Kittle said he would be seeking more information and hoped for the best but likened Newsom’s big Friday news as “political theater.”

“It looks like ‘Hey we did something, gave you an option, now figure it out,’” he said. “I don’t see how they’re going to implement and do it so quickly.”

The Santa Cruz County Health Department will also have to sign off on contact sports protocol, but spokesperson Corinne Hyland said Friday that there is no indication that the department’s stance would deviate from the state’s.

The non-football situation

While the football situation remains muddy, the biggest hurdles cleared Friday were for the other outside sports. The so-called “moderate contact” sports — baseball, softball and lacrosse — have been cleared for seasons without testing.

The “high contact” outdoor sports — boys and girls soccer and water polo — will be subject to the same testing requirements as football.

Indoor high contact sports — boys and girls basketball and wrestling — didn’t get any reprieve from the new guidelines and are the most endangered at this point. Nor did the moderate-contact indoor sport of volleyball. All would need the county to reach the “minimal tier” of yellow.

This story that will be updated if new details emerge.