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By Zach Cavanagh

The “scoreboard” watching is over in Orange County, as sports teams and organizations across the area got the number they needed on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Outdoor sports are back on in Orange County, as the county’s new case rate per 100,000 people dropped below 14 to 11.9 in the state’s weekly coronavirus tier update. New state guidelines dropped on Friday, Feb. 19 set the 14 per 100,000 benchmark to return to play.

Pending county and school district approvals, high school football and water polo teams can finally begin their twice-delayed seasons as early as Feb. 26, and the outdoor spring sports of soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball and cheerleading can all go off as scheduled next month.

Friday’s new sports guidelines did not completely wipe out the previous guidelines that slotted each sport in one of the state’s four color-coded coronavirus monitoring tiers based on level of risk as determined by indoor or outdoor and amount of contact. The sports are still assigned to tiers, but with the case rate threshold now in place, the tiers only affect indoor sports, which remain in the orange “moderate” and yellow “minimal” tiers.

The guidelines apply across the board to youth and adult sports, either organized or recreational.

Graphic: CIF-SS, California Department of Public Health

Of the CIF-SS’ high school fall or “Season 1” sports, cross country was the first and only sport allowed to compete in the purple tier and has been since Jan. 25, when the regional stay-at-home orders were lifted across the state. Girls tennis was the first spring or “Season 2” sport to open action on Monday, Feb. 22, and can now play doubles matches under the new guidelines.

However, the spotlight now shines back to high school’s big-ticket sport: football.

“I’m really excited for our kids,” San Clemente football coach Jaime Ortiz said. “We’ve been training since August for this opportunity. We’ve had numerous delays and phases. For our seniors to get an opportunity to play, I commend our players and parents for sticking through it.”

Football has two special stipulations for its return. First, like water polo and rugby, the state’s new guidelines require weekly COVID-19 tests for all football coaches and players with results provided within 24 hours of competition. The state said it will cover the cost of the testing, making it free for the schools and teams. The state and CIF-SS did not lay out any protocols for positive tests, game cancelations or anything like that, with CIF-SS saying it would be a decision for districts and individual schools.

“That’s part of the process,” Ortiz said. “There’s things we’re just going to have to go through. We’ll have 210 tests that are going to have to happen on a weekly basis.”

The testing requirement could go away if the new case rate per 100,000 goes below 7.

Second, CIF-SS rules require 14 days of full practice before football games can be played and 10 days before a scrimmage against another team can be held. So, whereas water polo can start immediately on Friday if the proper approvals come through, there will still be two weeks of headway before football can officially start. With CIF-SS’ official end date for football season on April 17, every day counts in terms of the length of the season.

San Clemente is scheduling for a five-game season that will kick off against Capistrano Valley on March 19. The Tritons will also play Aliso Niguel before a three-game South Coast League schedule against San Juan Hills, Tesoro and Mission Viejo.

For the rest of the outdoor high school sports, the start dates will trickle out over the next month.

Water polo can begin on Friday, Feb. 26, soccer on Saturday, Feb. 27, boys tennis on Monday, March 1, lacrosse on March 12, swimming on March 13, baseball and softball on March 19, and golf and boys track and field on March 20.

The indoor sports – volleyball, basketball and wrestling – did not receive any updates and remain in their holding patterns.

Zach Cavanagh Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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