Jan 14, 2021 - Sports

California high school sports have been on pause since the pandemic began

Illustration of a pause-button symbol painted on a grass field.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

California high school sports have been shut down since the pandemic began and remain paused as numbers continue spiking statewide.

Where it stands: The state hoped to avoid the pandemic's apex by pushing sports to 2021. Instead, conditions have only gotten worse, putting that plan in jeopardy.

  • California high school athletics are tentatively scheduled to begin later this month, but they're still subject to individual county's safety tiers.
  • As of Tuesday, just four of 58 counties were below the most restrictive tier, which only allows for the most socially-distanced sports like golf, tennis and cross country.

Meanwhile, most other states have already completed their fall football seasons and are now in the midst of their winter basketball campaigns.

  • Football: 34 states have completed (or will by this weekend) their seasons, leaving 17 (including D.C.) with tentative or TBA start dates.
  • Basketball: 32 states' seasons are already underway, with eight more slated to begin in the next three weeks.
  • Other sports like soccer and volleyball have also crowned champions.

The state of play: California's athletic prowess is nearly unmatched, so this pause has deprived the high school sports landscape of many of its top players and teams.

high school stadium at sunset
2019 National Champion St. John Bosco's empty stadium in December. Source: @boscofootball (Instagram)

What they're saying: Some are against the statewide pause, like North Torrance HS baseball coach Joshua Lee, who argues that starting them up again would be both safer and more equitable than keeping them shelved.

  • "Over 70% of my players have traveled out of state multiple times during this pandemic," Lee told the L.A. Times (subscription), adding that "only those with the means to travel to expensive out-of-state tournaments are able to."

The big picture: Others have gone a step further, circumventing restrictions to give kids the athletic outlet they're missing.

  • Take Jordan Campbell, a former California high school football star with a brief NFL career.
  • His training center, Winner Circle Athletics, launched a club football league in the fall with 34 teams, 18 games a weekend and 1,500 players.

What's next: Statewide "Let them play" rallies are planned for Friday. "This is about the kids and their mental health," one mother said.

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