California Releases Updated Guidelines for Return of Youth Sports

Clovis East’s Tsuxeng Vang and Nico Insyarath rise to challenge Clovis North’s Garret Billhofer at the net. Photo taken April 2019. (Nugesse Ghebrendrias/Clovis Roundup)

The release arrived quietly Monday evening, but its impact on youth sports is huge: the California Department of Public Health unveiled new guidelines for the return of youth sports, an important step towards high school teams taking the field, court, track or pool again this school year.

According to the new guidance, competitive games between two schools will not be permitted until Jan. 25, 2021. In addition, teams are not permitted to compete outside of California; they can only compete against other schools within their county, or against schools in an immediately neighboring county that also permits the same sport.

Tournaments or events involving two or more teams are not allowed under the updated guidance. However, exceptions can be made by local health departments for sports “where individual competitors from multiple teams are routine,” according to the guidance. These sports include: cross country, golf, tennis and swimming & diving.

For counties currently in a stay-at-home order, such as those in the San Joaquin Valley region, the new guidance recommends “youths should limit their sport activities to their own households.”

There is some good news for high school parents and families in the updated youth sports guidance: immediate household members are allowed to attend practices and games, while observing social distancing and wearing a face covering. The capacity for indoor venues is set at 25% for counties in the Orange (Moderate) tier, and 50% for counties in the Yellow (Moderate) tier.

Physical conditioning, practice and training can take place outdoors with six feet of social distancing, regardless of a county’s tier, so long as there is no stay-at-home order. 

The updated youth sports guidance utilizes a tier-based chart to determine which sports’ competitions will be allowed when a county stands in a specific tier. As a county moves “up” towards the lesser Orange and Yellow tiers, there are increasingly more sports that are permitted:

Allowed under Purple tier and recognized as “outdoor, low-contact sports”:

  • Badminton
  • Cross country
  • Dance (no contact)
  • Golf
  • Swimming and diving
  • Tennis
  • Track and field

Allowed under Red tier and recognized as “outdoor, moderate-contact sports”:

  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Cheerleading
  • Lacrosse (girls/women)

Allowed under Orange tier as “outdoor, high-contact sports” and “indoor, low-contact sports”:

  • Football
  • Basketball (outdoor only)
  • Lacrosse (boys/women)
  • Soccer
  • Volleyball (indoor or outdoor)
  • Water polo

Allowed under Yellow tier as “indoor, high-contact sports”:

  • Basketball (indoors)
  • Wrestling

Lastly, the full chart of all youth/recreational adult sports as allowed by tier, as provided from the California Department of Public Health:

For the purposes of the chart, the CDPH defines low-contact sports as those “where contact within six feet of other participants can be avoided”, and moderate-contact sports as involving “incidental or intermittent close contact.” High-contact sports are considered the riskiest by the CDPH, with repeated close contact between two teams and higher chance for transmission.

The new youth sports guidance will be reviewed again on Jan. 4, 2021. The CIF said high school competition could not proceed without an updated set of guidelines, and now that they are here, the next step will be for CIF to revise its schedule to match with the latest update.

There is still work to be done before the return of high school competition, but the first step towards that goal was taken Monday, Dec. 14. The new guidance provides more than a plan for safe, socially-distanced youth competition; for high school coaches, athletes and families, it provides hope. 

Gabriel Camarillo
Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.