High school sports teams in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties will not be able to engage in competitive interscholastic play as long as they remain under the regional stay-at-home order set by the state to combat an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"We are planning on contests to be happening on Jan. 25, but it isn't up to us at this point,” said Will DeBoard, assistant commissioner with the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section. “It's up to when the regional stay-at-home order is removed for the San Joaquin Valley. Until that happens, there won't be any competition between CIF high schools."
Sonora, Summerville, Calaveras, and Bret Harte high schools are part of the Mother Lode League, one of the competitive units within the section.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) governs high school sports in the state, but has negotiated with the state public health agency on how to safely return to competitive sports during the ongoing pandemic.
On Dec. 18, CIF Commissioner Michael S. Garrison announced the state Department of Public Health released guidelines for returning to high school sports, though they were not in line with the recommendation by the CIF Sports Medicine Academy to have all sports be allowed within the red tier.
The CIF released updated guidelines on Tuesday that allow for the return of sports by Jan. 25, but much of the state remains under a stay-at-home order due to available intensive care unit beds falling below 15% within five regional state blocs.
Counties cannot return to competitive high school sports until the stay-at-home order is lifted in their region, according to CIF officials. When the order is lifted, the sports which can be played will be dictated by each county’s color-coded tier level under the state's phased reopening system.
"They cannot compete (team vs. team) in sports during a regional stay-at-home order, that is my understanding," said Rebecca Brutlag, spokeswoman for CIF based in Sacramento.
Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are grouped into the San Joaquin Valley region, which has 0% ICU availability. It is the lowest in the state with the Southern California region, which is also at 0%.
The order will be lifted once the four-week projection for the region’s ICU availability rises above 15%, a metric that is evaluated on a weekly basis. According to the state, the San Joaquin Valley region’s ICU projection currently does not meet the criteria to exit the order.
Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are also still considered to be in the purple tier, the most severe level, along with the majority of the state.
"Once it goes away, teams will immediately be able to have cross-country meets (purple) and will be able to play other Season 1 sports when the color tier hits orange for the county," DeBoard said.
The guidelines would be problematic for MLL, because schools from Tuolumne County would not be able to play schools from Amador County, who are also in the league.
Sonora and Summerville high schools are currently not participating in any practicing, conditioning, or training for "Season 1" sports, which include cheerleading, cross country, field hockey, football, gymnastics, skiing and snowboarding, girls volleyball and water polo.
"High school athletics are an important part of the overall high school experience that the students have, so we look forward to when we can safely return to those as well," said Karen Sells, Sonora High principal and former athletic director.
Sells said Sonora High recently hired a new athletic director, Rusty Price. She also said the school did a small amount of conditioning for Season 1 sports earlier in the year, prior to the returning to distance learning due to the ongoing surge.
Michael Merrill, Summerville Union High School District superintendent, said Summerville High is still waiting to hear from the CIF and CDPH for guidance about sports, but with the statewide COVID-19 surge, he did not expect them to return soon.
Merrill said Summerville High was participating with other Mother Lode League athletics officials to determine what would happen next.
"We're in wait-and-see and mode," he said.
Summerville High also had conditioning and practicing of Season 1 sports earlier in the year for about three weeks before Tuolumne County was placed in the purple tier of the state's color-coded reopening system.
The CIF provides an online summary of the "CDPH Youth Sports Guidelines," which will govern the return to high school sports.
For counties under a regional stay-at-home order, only "physical conditioning practice, skill-building, and training can be conducted outdoors, with 6-feet of physical distancing, and within stable team cohorts," regardless of the tier status and pursuant to the guidelines established by the district school board or county public health office. Some activities may be conducted indoors based on capacity guidelines.
Competitive events will only be allowed if both teams are located within the same county or immediately bordering counties, and the sport is authorized in the locations. Out-of-state competition is not allowed at this time.
Competitions involving multiple teams are not permitted, unless by exception from the local health department for sports where individual participation is routine such as track and field, cross country, golf, skiing and snowboarding, tennis, and swimming or diving.
The guidelines will also be adjusted weekly, according to the CIF. If there is a positive COVID-19 test, schools must follow public health guidelines and the student-athlete may not return to practice until cleared by a physician.
The CIF also provides an infographic sheet for each individual sport and the safety guidelines that must be met for them to be played.
According to CIF, cross country, golf, skiing and snowboarding, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field are allowed in the purple tier.
In the red tier, baseball, field hockey, girls lacrosse, and softball are allowed.
In the orange tier, badminton, football, gymnastics, boys lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, and water polo are allowed.
In the yellow tier, basketball, competitive cheerleading, and wrestling are allowed.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4526.