After a year of silence, the clicks, snaps, and pops of football helmets and pads have returned to the high school fields of Long Beach, thanks to plummeting COVID-19 numbers and swift action on the part of the city’s high school sports administrators. After a 2020 with no football games and months without real practices, Long Beach is just two weeks away from seeing its first football games, on March 12.
“We are ready, we have a great group of athletic directors and they’ve been doing a good job of prepping for this moment,” said Moore League secretary Lisa Ulmer, the Long Beach Unified School District’s point person on high school and middle school sports. Ulmer said her team’s prep work at each stage of the pandemic has prepared them to meet this moment.
“We’ve gotten together with each new change and re-done our schedules, so all of that work has helped us,” she said. “What we planned back in July is still valid now. It’s just now that we have ‘Oh my God, we can play!’”
It was a whirlwind week. Last Friday the California Department of Public Health changed its guidelines to allow outdoor sports to resume once a county’s case rate dropped to 14 per 100,000. It was assumed that would take a week or two, but instead Los Angeles County dropped to 12.3 just four day’s after the CDPH’s guidelines changed, starting a mad sprint to March 12.
“Helmets were passed out on Tuesday on the first day we were at that case rate, which means teams will have the option to play on the 12th,” said Ulmer. “Not all teams will, we have some teams that will choose to scrimmage or just have another week of practice.”
Three games on 3/12 loom large, though, with Long Beach Poly hosting Serra on its campus field, Millikan facing Los Alamitos, and Lakewood facing St. Anthony. After that first week, the Moore League will place a five-game schedule from March 19 through April 16/17, the last week competition is allowed to occur for football in the 2020-21 school year.
Not every team will be able to play, however, as Cabrillo decided that between a lack of players and other issues getting kids medically cleared to play, the Jaguars will sit this season out.
St. Anthony, a private school not in the Moore League, will join the city’s publics in returning to play.
“We’re looking forward to it, we really are,” said Saints coach Mario Morales. “To get us back on this fun train again to watch athletics and watch high school kids compete and bring our community back together.”
Games in Long Beach will take place Friday and Saturdays and while the general public will not be allowed to come watch, a limited number of players’ parents or close family members will. There were some other hurdles for Ulmer and the city’s athletic directors, including construction occurring at half of the Moore League schools currently planning on playing this season. Lakewood, Compton, and Millikan’s fields are either under construction or not ready yet, with plans put in place long ago to do construction during an offseason that has suddenly become a season.
“Lakewood and Compton cannot have any home games, and Millikan’s lights aren’t ready yet so they can’t play Friday nights, they’ll host games Saturday at noon until they’re ready,” said Ulmer. “Other than that, we’re ready to go–I took the word ‘Draft’ off the Moore League football schedule.”