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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.

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.

Go deeper

Updated 21 hours ago - Sports

2 tennis players test positive for coronavirus ahead of Australian Open

A tennis player (C) leaves hotel quarantine for a training session in Melbourne on Tuesday. The players to test positive for COVID-19 have not been publicly identified. Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Two tennis players are among seven people involved in the Australian Open to test positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne, health authorities in the state of Victoria said Tuesday.

Why it matters: Some tennis stars including men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic had sent a letter demanding Victorian authorities ease strict coronavirus quarantine rules for players ahead of the season-opening tennis major's start on Feb. 8.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."