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The Full Spectrum of Risks: A Call to Consider Opening Up the Fields for Play

By Chris Fore, 02/16/21, 9:15PM PST


43 states played high school athletics this Fall; It is time for CA student-athletes to return to play

The California Coaches Association has been in existence in our great state since 1957.  The mission of the California Coaches Association is to provide a professional organization uniting all coaches in California, dedicated to maintaining the highest possible standards for athletic competition and coaching conditions in California.

Our leadership has been communicating with the California Department of Health over the course of the last three weeks, but have grown tired of their inability to simply respond to our formal suggestions of guidelines to reopen athletics in California. 

The California Department of Health has continued to promise a response to our suggestions in the plan that we have provided below.  We sent this to Dr. Ghaly and Dr. Pan in an email on January 26th, but have yet to hear a formal response on our suggestions.  As recently as last Wednesday, Dr. Ghaly thanked us for our patience, and said they would be getting back to us. 

We have provided a plan that we believe is fair and reasonable given the Governor's plan to reopen schools because is aligns directly with it.   

We have been very patient for months on end.  Our athletes and coaches have been very patient for months on end.   But it's time to share our plan, the plan that the CDPH has had for the last three weeks, and a plan that should go into effect immediately. 

At the time we wrote this, in the middle of January, our case rates were nowhere near where they are today.  But if our state leaders had taken the time to consider athletics as a total part of the reopening of schools, we would be playing today in many counties where the rate is below the threshold that Governor Newsom has said schools should open.  Unfortunately, there was zero consideration for athletics along with the school's reopening plans, so here, close to 1 million high school athletes sit . . . . and wait . . .  . . . and wait. 

Here below is what we sent to the California Department of Health, Dr. Ghaly and Dr. Pan specifically. 

The COVID-19 virus is real, and can be deadly.  This is an undeniable fact.  

Student-athletes desperately want to return to life as normal.  This is an undeniable fact. 

Life is about a series of choices.

The California Department of Public Health has made the decision to remove the state from the “Stay At Home Order,” based on projections of up to a month out, but has refused to address the tier system that allows 3,000,000 children to return to sports.  

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlines a series of choices that adults must make.  In their document called “School Decision-Making Tool for Parents, Caregivers and Guardians” it lays out the choices that parents have while facing this virus:  

“As you are making decisions about your child(ren) returning to school, it is important to consider the full spectrum of risks involved in both in-person and virtual learning options. Parents, guardians, and caregivers should weigh the relative health risks of COVID-19 transmission from in-personal instruction against the educational, social-behavioral, and emotional risks of providing no in-person instruction when deciding between these two options. Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than the school. The in-person school environment not only provides educational instruction, but supports a child’s social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, reliable nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity.”

These CDC recommendations are not being considered by the elected officials and the California Department of Public Health.  The children in this state have been stuck at home in distance learning for TEN months.  The in person school environment has not been an option for our children.  The 850,000 high school student-athletes in this state need more effective leadership from the California Department of Public Health; specifically, we are calling on the California Department of Public Health to consider the CDC statement above, as they consider the reopening of sports.  

We are very disappointed that the California Department of Public Health has “kicked the can down the road again.”  The Governor and CDPH have promised time and again to update the sports guidance documents.  We’ve seen this updated just one time since August.  This is a gross negligence of your duty to the student-athletes in this state.  Why is it that 43 other states have been able to figure this out, and our leadership in California has not?

3 million California children, including 850,000 high school athletes have been sidelined from sports since March 13th.   Despite the fact that 43 states played athletics this past Fall, California did not.  Despite the fact that Governor Newsom has said that schools should open their doors at the metric of 25 infections per 100,000 people, many sports in California cannot start until we reach 1-3.9 infections per 100,000.   Let’s face it, this will not happen in time for most sports to play their season this year.

Per the reopening guidelines of January 14, 2021, the Governor and his team have deemed it safe to put children in a closed classroom environment for 6 hours a day with a metric of an adjusted case rate of 25 infections per 100,000 people.  Yet, the Governor and California Department of Public Health will not allow for children to play sports outdoors where there is very little contact until we are at 3.9 infections per 100,000.  Where is the science informing these decisions?  Why would we allow kids to sit in an enclosed classroom for six hours a day, but not play an outdoor sport for two hours?  Where is the spread of COVID-19 more likely to occur?  

We turn your attention to just four simple data points from states who played athletics this Fall.

94% of the 35 states who started football this Fall played through their championship games. No other statistic so strongly points out the fact that football can be safely played in a COVID-19 environment.  These states had very strict rules and regulations to prevent the spread.  And a spread in the communities playing sports would have shut the sport down.  Yet, 94% of the states did not see a spread that necessitated shutting the sport down. COVID-19 is a very minimal threat to children playing outdoor sports.  

  • According to a recent study by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service, a whopping 99.6% of more than 6,000 high school student-athletes tested NEGATIVE for COVID-19 through the state testing that they completed on a regular basis during the season.  There is virtually no spread happening among those student-athletes.  Michigan currently has a 9.1% positivity rate.  Their student-athletes have had a .04% positivity rate. COVID-19 is a very minimal threat to children playing outdoor sports. 

  • 99% of Alabama’s 398 high schools played an entire Fall season and completed state championships.  COVID-19 is a very minimal threat to children playing outdoor sports. 

  • Wyoming had six Fall Sports (football, volleyball, golf, tennis, cross country and girls swimming and diving) that all completed a regular season and had their regular playoffs and State Championships. COVID-19 is a very minimal threat to children playing outdoor sports. 

A great majority of student-athletes just want a chance to play again.

A great majority of their parents just want a chance to play again.

The CDC guidance encourages parents and educators to consider the “full spectrum of risks involved in both in-person and virtual learning options.”  This concept applies to sports as well.

Dr. Ghaly, Governor Newsom, the California Coaches Association calls on you to consider the “full spectrum of risks” involved in keeping our 850,000 high school student-athletes on the bench in their homes vs. returning to a sense of normalcy that they so desperately need.  We call on the California Department of Public Health to consider opening up ALL sports at the same threshold you’ve allowed for schools to reopen: an infection rate of 25:100,000.  

Respectfully Submitted, 

The California Coaches Association Leadership

Chris Fore, CAA, President; Principal, The Palmdale Aerospace Academy

Amanda Waters, CIF Southern Section Representative; Athletic Director, Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana)

Scott King, CIF Los Angeles Section Representative; California Coaches Association Hall of Fame Member

Mary Jo Truesdale, CIF Sac Joaquin Section Rep.; 2020 NFHS National Softball Coach of the Year, Head Softball Coach, Sheldon High School

Daniel Maldonado, CIF Sac Joaquin Section Representative; Head Volleyball Coach, Varsity Softball Coach, Pacheco High School

Paul Snow, CMAA, CIF Central Coast Section Representative; Athletic Director/Coach, Menlo Atherton High School

Jeff Scheller, CIF Central Coast Section Representative; Head Football Coach/Athletic Director, San Mateo High School

Yosef Fares, CIF Central Section Representative; Head Football Coach, Justin Garza High School

Rus Pickett, CIF Central Section Representative; Head Football Coach, Hoover High School 

Stirley Jones, CIF Southern Section Representative; Head Sprints Coach, Los Alamitos High School

Ram Medina, CIF Southern Section Representative; Assistant Football Coach, Moorpark High School

Jed Clark, CIF Southern Section Representative; Head Wrestling Coach, Santa Margarita High School

Brett Dudley, CIF North Coast Section Representative; Assistant Head Football Coach, Antioch High School

Lane Hawkins, CIF North Coast Section Representative; Athletic Director/Head Football Coach, St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School

Ryan Reynolds, CIF Northern Section Representative; Head Football Coach, Head Track and Field Coach, Sutter High School