When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced revised guidelines for the return of high school sports, it was understandably greeted with much fanfare.
But the work continues for schools, teams, coaches and student-athletes. The thing to know is that it is not full-speed ahead. High school sports are still tied to the state’s color-tiered system and Friday’s announcement affected those sports that were tied to the orange tier: football, water polo, soccer, boys’ lacrosse, volleyball and badminton.
Football, polo, soccer and boys’ lacrosse were essentially allowed to begin competing while a county is still in the purple, provided there was weekly COVID-19 testing for the student-athletes — for which the state would pay, Newsom said.
It was not all good news for all the orange-tier sports, however. Both girls’ volleyball and badminton were both moved down from the orange to the yellow — the least restrictive color on the list but the most restrictive for sports in that designation.
“I’ll tell you what square I didn’t have in the office pool — outdoor sports being able to play in the purple and indoor sports to move down a tier. … I didn’t expect indoor sports to improve, but I didn’t expect them to regress,” said Steve Sell, Aragon football coach and athletic director. “It’s a big change. The sports placed in those (orange and yellow) tiers were based on two factors: indoors versus outdoors and the amount of contact. … The new guidelines make a colossal distinction between those two factors, making (the ability to play outdoors), by far, the biggest factor. … They saw a colossal difference in risk between outdoor sports and indoor sports.”
Basketball and wrestling were not affected by the new guideline as those sports were, and still remain, in the yellow tier.
Now that four more sports have been given a cautious go-ahead to proceed beginning Friday, there are still factors at play. Games are now tied to the adjusted infection rate of the county. The number of infections among 100,000 people will determine whether COVID-19 testing is necessary.
“The two big numbers are 7 and 14,” said Sell, who is also president of the Central Coast Section. “If you stay below 14, you can play (football, water polo, soccer and boys’ lacrosse) with testing. If you go below 7, then you do not have to test.”
Sell said the county, as of Monday, had an AIR of 9. Once the AIR is 7 or better, which San Mateo County officials expect to reach Wednesday, it opens up the field for baseball, softball and girls’ lacrosse to begin play. Once in the red, testing is not required for any sport by the state, Sell said.
Currently, the schools in the San Mateo Union High School District are testing student-athletes in cross country, girls’ tennis, girls’ golf and swimming. But it is the only district in the Peninsula Athletic League that is testing, which resulted in the six schools in the district to set up a district-only schedule in those sports.
With the state now willing to cover the costs of tests if necessary, and with the county on the verge of entering the red tier in which testing is not mandated, it allows the PAL to revert to its familiar, competitive-based Bay-Ocean divisions.
“The assumption is the San Mateo district schools will come along,” said Melissa Schmidt, Sequoia athletic director and girls’ soccer coach. “I didn’t think we were going to get here. I’m alternating between being completely thrilled and then overwhelmed by the idea that we basically have to play every outdoor sport over the span of four months. There are a ton of things to figure out.”
This news may also encourage the Jefferson Unified School District — which encompasses Jefferson, Terra Nova and Westmoor — to reconsider its decision to not restart cross country, swimming and girls’ golf and tennis with the rest of the teams in the PAL. The Jefferson school board has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
Jefferson district schools opting back into play would cause another revision of several sports schedules but, as of now, football is slated to start play two weeks from Friday.
“Our first game is March 12 versus Cap,” said Jeff Scheller, San Mateo football coach and AD, adding that the Bearcats are tentatively scheduled for a 5-game season, with the possibility of adding a sixth. The season includes the traditional rivalry games for all teams in the PAL as the finale.
But Scheller is not going to get too ahead of himself.
“That’s the message this week — plan on having one game. If we have two, great,” Scheller said.