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By Zach Cavanagh

The ever-evolving situation of high school sports during the coronavirus pandemic took another couple twists and turns in the past two weeks, with developments for the worse and for the better.

On Jan. 19, the CIF-Southern Section made its expected decision to cancel its fall sports championships for football, water polo, cross country and girls volleyball.

“There has not been enough progress made from the purple tier toward the orange tier for football, girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo to even begin competition this season,” CIF-SS Commissioner Rob Wigod said in a statement. “Subsequently, there will not be sufficient time for those sports to conduct viable league play, which is necessary for us to be able to conduct section championships in those sports.”

Cross country, on the other hand, has finally received its spark of light, as California’s regional stay-at-home orders were lifted on Monday, Jan. 25. Cross country, as a low-contact outdoor sport, is the only fall sport that’s allowed to compete in the highest-risk purple “widespread” tier of the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system.

Graphic: CIF-Southern Section

Monday was also the first day that youth sports competitions were officially allowed to resume by state guidance, in sports in which their county’s tier allows. As such, some schools in Orange County have begun to schedule virtual cross country meets, where teams race independently on the same course and compare times. There are obstacles to scheduling, as schools can only schedule dual meets against one other school, multi-school invitationals are subject to county health agency approval and some county regional parks aren’t allowing races to be run there.

While cross country can start to compete, CIF-SS canceled its cross country championships due to travel restrictions and coronavirus precautions.

“The ability for us to host a Southern Section championship from one location and have student-athletes from all seven counties within the Southern Section footprint be allowed to travel to that single location is not realistic,” Wigod said.

However, the cancellation of the fall championships, as well as the earlier cancellation of state regional playoffs, does come with another kernel of positivity.

In its announcement, CIF-SS established end dates for each of the fall sports, which provide several weeks of extra time to allow schools to hopefully schedule as full a regular season as possible.

The end date for water polo and girls volleyball is March 20, cross country is March 27, and football is April 17.

“We are not canceling the entire seasons for our fall sports,” Wigod said. “We strongly support our member schools in returning to play.”

Wigod confirmed that there is no change to the schedule yet for spring sports, and that with several spring sports in the purple risk tier, they can go on as planned. Any decision on the status of spring sports championships would not happen until April.

These developments all come about as the strong and growing #LetThemPlayCA movement has sprung up on social media and with statewide rallies held on Jan. 15 and more being planned for Friday, Jan. 29. There will be a South Orange County rally on Friday at 4 p.m. in Mission Viejo at the intersection of Oso and Marguerite parkways.

In his statement and in a video conference on Jan. 19, Wigod empathized with and supported the movement, saying that conversations continue between CIF, section commissioners, the Governor’s office, the California Department of Public Health and local health authorities to try and get teams back on the field.

“We’re continuing to press the case,” Wigod said. “We saw some improvement (in the coronavirus metrics) yesterday. Hopefully that continues, and with that improvement comes the effort to continue to see if we can get a revision from orange (which includes football, water polo, volleyball, soccer and lacrosse) to red. We’re not going to give up, because it’s too important for what we’re fighting for.”

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