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California Allows Outdoor Youth Sports to Resume

Andy Berg Headshot

California is loosening its rules around youth sports after a long fight that involved parents, student-athletes and coaches pressuring state officials to help get you athletes back to practice and competition.

Public health officials in California announced Friday a plan that would allow youth sports competitions to resume in most part of the state by the end of March. That clears the way for abbreviated spring versions of high school football, field hockey, gymnastics and water polo.

Related: California Youth Coaches Meet with Governor's Office 

“It’s going to be a very welcome reprieve for hundreds of thousands of kids who (experienced) a lot of pain in not being able to play in the fall,” Patrick Walsh, head football coach for Junipero Serra High School, told the local NBC affiliate. “This gives us a sense of hope and something to look forward to in an otherwise pretty melancholy situation.”

Nearly all youth sports, including high school sports, have been on hold since the pandemic took hold back in March of 2020. The California Interscholastic Federation moved most fall sports to the spring in hopes of salvaging a season. However, state rules required that a county advance out of the state’s most restrictive of the four tiers that make up the state’s virus regulations.

A precipitous drop in cases over the past six weeks, along with pressure from students, parents and coach, prompted a loosening of California’s strict rules.

Under the new rules, a county's overall tier designation doesn't matter. The one metric being used for sports competitions is per capita cases. All outdoor sports are allowed — with safety protocols — once a county reaches a level of 14 cases or lower for every 100,000 people. Fully 27 counties meet that standard, with 16 other counties expected to in the next few weeks.

The new rules apply to all outdoor youth and adult recreational sports, including schools and community-sponsored leagues. They do not apply to college and professional sports, which have a separate set of rules.

"That's more complicated, and that's where we have more controversy, and understandably so,” Newsom said Friday during a news conference at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Alameda County. “We are confident that if we can resume it will only help enliven the capacity of these kids to feel more engaged, feel more alive.”

The new rules impost a number of limitations on teams, including banning indoor activities like team dinners and film study, and athletes are not allowed to share equipment. All coaches and athletes 13 and older who participate in a close-contact sport will require weekly testing. Newsom said the state will pay for testing.

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