Indoor high school sports on path to resume in California after lawsuit settled

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The drive to allow indoor high school sports to be played in California received a major boost Thursday, March 4 as a lawsuit challenging the state’s guidelines for youth sports reached a “tentative settlement” with the state that could have major ripple effects for student-athletes statewide amid the pandemic.

The plaintiffs in a suit filed by two San Diego high school football players against Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the county of San Diego announced that the settlement includes guidelines to allow for indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling to resume competition with certain conditions.

Brad Hensley, co-founder of the grassroots group Let Them Play CA, said all high school sports will be allowed to be played in counties that have adjusted case rates of the virus of 14 or less per 100,000 people, and follow testing programs.

Stephen Grebing, one of the attorneys representing the players, said during a press conference that he expects the guidelines to be released by the CDPH in the next day or two but added that CIF and county officials will need to sign off on it.

“They’re very close to what you would find by way of the California collegiate guidelines,” Grebing said of the update. “There will be some spectators allowed to come to some of the sports. Indoor sports will be allowed with testing, testing within 48 hours of competition and periodical testing during the week.”

— #LetThemPlayCA (@letthemplayca1) March 4, 2021

Grebing’s firm has filed at least six lawsuit across the state, including in Orange and San Bernardino counties, essentially arguing under equal protection statues that high school athletes have been treated unfairly because college and professional sports have been allowed during the pandemic while high schools have been mostly shut down from competing since last March.

The state has approved for low-contact, outdoor sports such as cross country and tennis to begin and recently permitted high-contact outdoor sports such as football and water polo to play with certain conditions. Water polo and football can be played in counties with case rates under 14 and with weekly testing when case rates are between 7 and 14.

While high school football and water polo have progressed toward abbreviated seasons, which end in March and April, the indoor sports have been clouded with uncertainty. Basketball, volleyball and wrestling have been approved for competition in only the state’s yellow tier for the virus, or minimal risk with an adjusted case rate of less than 1 per 100,000 among the metrics.

The San Diego lawsuit secured a temporary restraining order that essentially nixed the state’s guidelines in San Diego County and was scheduled for a preliminary injunction hearing Friday, March 5.

The CIF Southern Section issued a statement that it expects the CDPH guidelines to be updated, but until then the current rules should be followed.

“It is our understanding that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will be updating its Youth Sports Guidance based on a settlement agreement reached in a litigation matter pending in San Diego County,” the section stated. “It is further our understanding that the settlement agreement is not yet available for review.  We are therefore reserving comment on the terms of the agreement until it is finalized.”

Damien boys basketball coach Mike LeDuc welcomed the news, but noted that there are still several steps that need to be taken before there are any games or events for indoor sports.

“I can only interpret today’s news how others are interpreting it, and it sounds like good news and that we might be in a basketball gym soon,” LeDuc said. “We have not heard from the governor’s office or from CIF, but just listening to the Let Them Play advocates and the attorneys speaking, it sounds like they reached a settlement agreement and if that helps us get back in the gym, then I’m thrilled.

“I am thrilled every time there is positive news and this is some of the best news we’ve heard in a long time.”

Charter Oak athletic director and football coach Dominic Farrar acknowledged that another change to the CDPH guidelines creates more challenges for high school athletic departments.

“I just continue to get my own mind and everyone else’s minds right to step up to the challenge,” Farrar said. “Things change so we have to be flexible, which means we have to adjust and adapt with decisions that are made and react accordingly and responsibly.”

This a breaking story. Please check back for further details.

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