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California’s Youth Sports Update Provides Answers, Leaves Questions

For the first time in more than four months, the California Department of Public Health updated its guidelines for youth sports last week, providing the 2020-21 school year’s first clarity as to whether or not high school sports will be played in California this year. Prior to last week’s update, the CIF State and its section offices (including the local Southern Section) had shifted their schedules and provided a suggested framework–but had been waiting more than two months for the CDPH to respond to their proposal.

The new guidelines provide a number of answers, but also raise more questions. The biggest pieces of news were that all youth sports competition in the state–whether high school, club, or rec programs–are to remain shut down until January 25. Teams can continue to practice and train, but not actually play games.

The other big change made by the CDPH’s guidelines were the assignment of all sports into purple, red, orange, or yellow tiers, the same tiers that counties have been using to determine which businesses or schools will be allowed to open. Because cross country, golf, swimming/diving, tennis, and track and field are all classified as permissible in the purple tier, local sports fans have their first assurances that some high school sports will be able to compete in the 2020-21 school year.

Long Beach’s metrics have been tracked with Los Angeles County’s tier status, which has remained in the purple “widespread” tier since the introduction of the tiered system. If the city and county remain in purple, those sports could be the only ones we see this school year.

In the red tier, which Orange County reached for a few months earlier in the Fall, the following sports would be allowed: baseball, softball, and girls’ lacrosse.

In the orange tier: football, soccer, volleyball, water polo, gymnastics, boys’ lacrosse, and badminton.

FInally, in the yellow tier: basketball, wrestling, and competitive cheerleading.

There are still significant factors that are unknown, including the speed with which vaccine distribution could move communities through tiers. Those tiers aren’t set in stone, either, and there’s been a suggestion in Sacramento that schools could be removed from the tier system altogether. That would potentially open the door for a change in the youth sports guidelines as well.

CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod, a Long Beach native and Wilson alum, was disappointed with the state’s decision to reject the CIF State’s proposal.

“It is important to note that what was recommended by our CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee is not what we see here,” said Wigod. “We requested that all sports be conducted in the Red Tier and were hopeful that we would be allowed to proceed accordingly.” 

Wigod and CIF State officials both emphasized that their dialogue with the CDPH will continue. The CDPH has said it will update its assessment on Jan. 4, including an announcement on whether Jan. 25 will still be the first allowable date for competition. Wigod will update the CIF-SS’ plans on Jan. 19, and emphasized the need to stay hopeful and continue to work to stop the spread of the virus so that kids can get back on the field.

“It’s too important to them for us to not do everything we can on their behalf to keep their dreams alive,” said Wigod. “Now is not the time to lose hope.”


Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.