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By Zach Cavanagh

The door is creaking open for high school football and water polo teams to get in their seasons.

The California Department of Public Health made much-anticipated updates to its youth and recreational adult sports guidelines on Friday, Feb. 19, to allow outdoor, high-contact sports, such as football, water polo, soccer, boys lacrosse and rugby, to return to play in the purple “widespread” or red “substantial” tiers beginning Feb. 26, if certain coronavirus metrics are met.

In counties where the adjusted case rate per 100,000 is at or below 14, those outdoor, high-contact sports will be allowed to return to full practice and competition with the specific requirement that football, water polo and rugby coaches and players receive weekly COVID-19 tests and provide results within 24 hours of competition.

Outdoor, moderate-contact sports, such as baseball, softball, girls lacrosse and cheerleading, can also be played in these counties, but there is no requirement for testing.

The state guidance applies to all youth and adult sports, including private clubs and high school sports.

As of this week’s tier update on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Orange County is still in the purple tier with a case rate of 20.7. The county has been trending in a positive direction with the case rate at 39 two weeks ago and 29.4 one week ago, and Orange County’s testing positivity rate reached the red level this week at 7.8%.

Graphic: CIF-SS, California Department of Public Health

While Friday’s announcement is the first major cause for hope in some time for these sports, there are still a couple levels of approval needed for the return from the county at all levels and then additionally from the school districts or private school entities at the high school level.

The latest updates come after weeks of increased pressure from state coaching organizations and a coalition of parents in the 60,000-member “Let Them Play CA” Facebook group, which held a series of rallies up and down California in January. The Golden State Coaches Community worked with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and local officials to pave the road for the resumption of major sports competition.

The high school football and water polo seasons have already been delayed twice, first moving from their traditional fall starts in August and September and moving off their adjusted dates in December as the coronavirus pandemic surged on during the winter. The CIF-SS championships have already been canceled for the fall sports.

CIF-SS does have end dates for each of the fall sports, where the teams can get in as many competitions as they can before the date. Water Polo’s end date is March 20, and football’s end date is April 17. Also important to note that per CIF-SS rules, football needs two weeks of full practice before games can be played.

Girls volleyball remains the one fall sport on the chopping block, as there was no update for indoor sports. Indoor volleyball is in the yellow “minimal” tier and has an end date of March 20.

Cross country, which is allowed in the purple tier, was the first and only fall sport to return when the regional stay-at-home order was lifted on Jan. 25. The end date for cross country is March 27.

Spring sports are just around the corner, as well, with girls tennis allowed to start on Monday, Feb. 22 and boys tennis on March 1. Tennis is allowed in the purple tier, as is swimming (March 13), golf (March 20) and track and field (March 20).

If the county’s case rate per 100,000 reaches 14 in the next tier update on Tuesday, Feb. 23, boys and girls soccer would also get to start on schedule next Saturday, Feb. 27, pending county and district approval.

Baseball and softball would also be allowed to start on schedule on March 19, as will boys and girls lacrosse on March 12.

The spring indoor sports of basketball, wrestling and boys volleyball remain closed off in the yellow tier, and may likely be the next battleground as their start dates hit in early March.

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