By Mitch Lehman
and Oscar Areliz
Though interpretations of its long-term impact will certainly vary, Tuesday’s announcement from an arm of the California Interscholastic Federation — the governing body for prep sports in the state — dealt yet another blow to the hopes of high school athletes for conducting any substantial competitions during the 2020-21 school year.
“Today, I must regretfully announce that we are canceling our 2020-21 CIF Southern Section Fall Sports Championships due to the COVID pandemic,” said the statement from the section’s commissioner of athletics, Rob Wigod.
Wigod stated that the decision was due to insufficient improvement in the area’s test positivity and adjusted case rates for COVID-19, as reflected by California’s color-tiered metric.
The purple tier, indicating a widespread infection rate, means there are more than seven daily cases per 100,000 population. The red tier, indicating a substantial infection rate, means there are between four and seven daily cases per 100,000 population, and the orange tier, indicating a moderate infection rate, means there are between one and 3.9 daily cases.
The yellow tier, indicating a minimal infection rate, is reached when there is less than one daily case per 100,000 population. On Wednesday morning, the seven-day daily average infection rate was 15.9%, according to data released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“There has not been enough progress made from the purple tier toward the orange tier for football, girls’ volleyball and boys’ volleyball to even begin competition this season,” said the release. “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 Southern Section championships in those sports.”
Instead, the release touts the ability to use the time to schedule contests, and set a series of sport-specific ‘end dates’ for the season.
“We are not canceling our entire seasons for fall sports, we are canceling the portion of the fall sports seasons that we have direct control over,” Wigod said.
According to the revised calendar, football contests would need to be completed by April 17, with boys’ and girls’ volleyball set to end on March 20 and boys’ and girls’ cross country given a March 27 deadline. No additional dates or guidelines were announced for spring sports.
“I think they are disappointed,” said Anthony Chan, South Pasadena High School’s director of athletics, when asked to assess the mood of the student-athletes at SPHS. “They want to be out there and we want them to be out there, too.”
Another factor in the cancellation of playoffs was travel. The Southern Section is the largest in the CIF, with nearly 600 member schools across seven counties, and it would have been a challenge for the CIF to schedule events.
Wigod reiterated that the clearance to play ultimately falls on public health officials.
“If anyone thinks for one second that the CIF Southern Section does not want student-athletes to be out participating in educational-based athletics, they are absolutely 100% wrong,” he said in a teleconference on Tuesday.
The CIF has been working closely with state officials on finding a way to resume high school sports but Wigod expressed frustration over the situation and lack of enforcement. Numerous club teams and private schools have reportedly continued practicing and scheduling contests, neither of which are currently allowed by public health officials.
“We have been in that dialogue since October, and at times we felt an ear that was taking into account what we were bringing forward and at times we haven’t felt that way,” Wigod said. “ … The same guidelines that we are following are the same guidelines that all organizations should be following, and I think the most frustrating thing for us, our member schools, for those who are seeing this happen is that nothing is being done about people who are violating not only the guidelines for youth sports, but even the stay-at-home order that’s been effect for the last three weeks.”
Other states moved forward with high school competition, and Wigod doesn’t regret the Southern Section’s decision last summer to delay the season. He just wished public health officials had given high schools the opportunity.
“We’ve told the governor’s office, we’ve told the California Department of Public Health,” he said. “We suggested a road map forward in October that we believed was workable from health-care professionals on our CIF sports medicine advisory committee.
“I believe if we got the opportunity, our education-based athletic programs will do it right, and if there are issues that have to be dealt with and postponements, hiccups or things that have to be addressed, I know we’ll address them, and I know our schools will do it the right way.”
Wigod also supported the groups that protest the restrictions on youth sports, but added that he wants to resume play in a safe manner.
Capistrano Valley Christian and Santa Ana Calvary Chapel recently defied public health orders and played football, as did two other teams, prompting the CIF state office to release a statement reminding schools of the consequences that come from violating health orders.
“Any school determined to have participated in or to be conducting interscholastic athletics events in violation of the state’s orders or CIF rules may be subject to CIF Article 22 sanctions, including but not limited to fines, suspensions or dismissal from membership,” the statement read.
The South Pasadena Unified School District closed its doors on March 13 and halted all extracurricular activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On July 20, the CIF announced its updated schedule for the 2020-21 school year that retained all previous sports but adopted a two-season format. The CIF’s new calendar postponed the beginning of the traditional fall season — Season 1 — with several sports being shuffled between seasons. Winter sports, such as basketball, were woven into spring sports, with regional or state playoffs ending June 19, and those offerings are now designated as Season 2.
In October, SPHS athletes began outdoor physical conditioning and skills training activities with masks, social distancing and in pods of no more than 12 student-athletes. Chan said on Monday that those activities were suspended after the recent winter break at public health officials’ behest.
“This may be the darkest period we have experienced throughout the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wigod said, a sentiment that is certainly echoed by all participants, coaches and families. “I know you join me in the belief that we must go forward doing everything possible on behalf of our student-athletes.”