When Sobrato High football coach Jubenal Rodriguez heard the announcement Friday morning that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) had given the go-ahead for high school football and other outdoor sports to resume play, he was downright ecstatic.
As Rodriguez messaged some of his players and athletic staff the good news, his thoughts turned immediately to getting started on logistical matters. However, his joy was later replaced by a sobering reality that Santa Clara County—one of the most restrictive counties in the nation since the pandemic began—had yet to give its approval for the resumption of outdoor sports.
“It’s a lot of mixed feelings right now, a roller coaster,” he said. “That’s where we’re at and we’re trying to stay positive. At this point—and I hate to say it—we’re used to it. It’s been pretty much like this since last year. Today was a positive day so in my head I’m going to enjoy this and start preparing practice schedules and wait for the go-ahead to send the info out to our families when it becomes official.”
The outdoor sports—baseball, football, lacrosse, softball, soccer, and water polo—are allowed to begin competition on Feb. 26 in any county with a case rate at or below 14 per 100,000 residents. As of Friday, Santa Clara County had a case rate in the single digits. As for San Benito County, Hollister football coach Bryan Smith said in a text message to this publication that San Benito County—which as of Friday had a case rate of 22.3—has until March 2 to get to 14 in order for the Haybalers to have a season.
Santa Clara County health officials are expected to make an announcement some time next week which will determine the fate of outdoor sports. If the county aligns with the state guidelines, then the final hurdle is for school districts to give their approval for play.
Because of this, local teams like Christopher, Gilroy, Live Oak and Sobrato are still in wait and see mode. Central Coast Section Commissioner David Grissom said the CDPH announcement was a step in the right direction.
“Absolutely, I think it’s really positive news,” said Grissom, who credited Executive Director Ron Nocetti of the California Interscholastic Federation—the state’s governing body of high school athletics—and parents who have worked with Gov. Gavin Newsom and the CDPH “to get to the finish line.”
The latest update didn’t provide any relief for indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling, no surprise given that health officials point to data showing the risk of spreading the virus is greater indoors than outdoors.
“Indoor sports will continue to struggle (to start competition) for a while,” Grissom said.
Athletes playing football, water polo and rugby will be required to be tested weekly—which will be paid by the state with results available within 24 hours—if their home county has a case rate above seven per 100,000. That’s because high-contact outdoor sports “are likely to be played unmasked, with close, face-to-face,” according to the CDPH. Football teams have until May 1 to complete their season. The state ruling means outdoor sports in Season 2—baseball, softball and lacrosse—can start their seasons on time having met the aforementioned criteria. Those sports were the first to have their seasons cancelled once stay-at-home orders went into effect last March.