After a shutdown of more than 11 months due to the COVID-19 virus, high school sports are returning to Long Beach this week with a trio of cross country meets.
Millikan will host Wilson and Poly will host Cabrillo on Wednesday afternoon in a pair of dual meets, then St. Anthony will host Bishop Montgomery at Clark Field on Saturday in what will be the first official high school sporting events in Long Beach since March 13, 2020. It’s the longest shutdown in the 100+ year history of the city’s prep sports scene, outlasting (by several months) shutdowns during World War II and the Influenza pandemic of 1918.
“Things were totally quiet for so long and now it’s crazy all of a sudden, but I’m glad,” said Moore League secretary Lisa Ulmer, who is at the center of the logistical planning locally to re-schedule sports seasons and get new dates on the calendar.
The sporting events are allowed to occur because the California Department of Public Health updated its guidelines last month to allow a few sports to be contested even while a city or county is in the purple tier–cross country, swimming, track and field, golf, tennis, and surfing.
Of the “Fall sports” currently in season, cross country is the only one allowed to return now, but the others are looking at a return in March and April. There is also the possibility that revised guidelines (which the CDPH and California governor Gavin Newsom have been promising) could allow other sports to be played as well.
After the CDPH and the CIF State and CIF Southern Sections signed off, Los Angeles County said it was okay for cross country meets to begin, and the Long Beach Unified School District reiterated its position that it will contest whatever is deemed allowable by those higher agencies. That just left the final green check to come from the Long Beach Health Department, which gave the okay late last week.
“It was pretty non-dramatic,” said Ulmer. “We needed an answer, we were just a week away from the planned cross country meets and the Health Department said they’d be okay with us using El Dorado or the school campuses, as long as it’s dual meets (with two schools only) instead of a cluster meet.”
The district has applied for permits to host the meets–which will continue weekly on Wednesdays–at El Dorado Park, but given the tight time frame between the Health Department approval and Wednesday’s return to play, the first week of meets will be hosted on campuses. Millikan and Poly have both drawn out three-mile courses on their campuses, while St. Anthony is using Clark Field’s spacious confines to do the same on Saturday.
All three levels will be contested–frosh/soph, junior varsity, and varsity–although they’ll be spaced out to allow for more distancing. Fans technically aren’t allowed, but anyone living in the same household as a competing student-athlete will be allowed to attend since the athletes are minors, so parents and siblings can watch in person.
While the dual meets are a far cry from the seven-team cluster meets that usually occur in local parks with a festival-type atmosphere in the Fall, Ulmer and other LBUSD administrators said they were thrilled to be able to bring some joy to the city’s student-athletes.
“I’m just so happy for our kids, for their mental and physical health,” said Ulmer. “These kids, at their age, socialization and interaction with other people is vital to their growth as human beings. Every household is going through a different experience, and it’s great to see something that’s kind of normal for these kids.”
Ulmer said that her hope is that she and her colleagues and the athletic directors and coaches at the high schools will have the opportunity to work nonstop to bring more sports back.
“I’m hoping people continue to follow the guidelines so we can keep dropping our COVID numbers and get more sports back,” she said. “This is a blessing for these kids.”