Kicking Off: High School Football Returns

The Clovis Cougars celebrated after winning the “Battle for the Boot” 24-21 against the Clovis East Timberwolves Friday night at Lamonica Stadium. (Gabe Camarillo/Clovis Roundup)

For the first time in 354 days, high school football players in Fresno County can put their pads on and hit each other.

In its weekly COVID-19 data release, the California Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that Fresno County met the positive case requirements to resume youth outdoor high-contact sports.

As a result, football, soccer and water polo are allowed to compete this spring.

“I’m grateful for the consistent support Clovis Unified has provided for all students since the start of the pandemic,” said Clovis head coach Rich Hammond. “The opportunity to compete is something we don’t take for granted, and for our seniors, it’s something I’m especially thankful for.”

On Feb. 19, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) set a benchmark for the return of outdoor high-contact sports within a county — a positive COVID-19 test rate at or below 14 cases per 100,000 people.

Fresno County dropped from 22.8 to 16.6 in the COVID-19 update on Feb. 23, followed by a further drop to 13.9 on Tuesday.

Weekly COVID-19 testing is required from football and water polo players during the season, but if the county’s positive test rate falls below 7.0, testing will no longer be mandated.

As part of the updated CDPH youth sports guidelines, once a county meets the requirements to play, “competition is not required to cease if the county’s adjusted case rate exceeds the 14 per 100,000 threshold.”

The CDPH guidelines also recommend only “immediate household members” attend games, with social distancing required at stadiums. Schools are still determining whether fans or students can attend as well.

Some Clovis Unified high schools still await the go-ahead from their administrations to go full contact. Clovis East football head coach Ryan Reynolds said his team can’t start contact practices on Tuesday because a few administrative documents need to be created.

“There are no words to explain how this whole process has affected our coaches, players, families and administrators,” Reynolds said. “Ups and downs, starts and stops, wait and go ahead… it has been a total mess from the top down.”

Reynolds said he expects the Timberwolves to wait a day, with full pads and contact practice expected by Wednesday, Mar. 3.

Clovis High wasted no time in releasing its five-game football schedule after it was confirmed there will be a season. The Cougars’ season opener is on Thursday, March 18 against the reigning 2019 Division I-AA state champion Central High Grizzlies.

Just like that, high school football is on the horizon.

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.