As the country is tied up in emotional knots over the election on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the coronavirus has maintained its grim grip on the U.S. as well its world of sports. The high school level has not been spared.
High school football in the CIF Southern Section is slated to begin Jan. 8. Not only is that more than four months later than usual, there has been no word yet as to whether fans will be allowed at games.
Furthermore, there is concern that football and other high school sports won’t begin at all this school year because of a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Will fans be on hand?
Playing games without fans is a real possibility. It’s been done on the college and pro levels. But it’s not a desirable consideration.
“Well, we would have to wait and see what the county allows, so that would be a county decision,” said Monty McDermott, athletic director at St. John Bosco, the defending national champion in football.
The Braves play host to Concord De La Salle, the team St. John Bosco defeated in last year’s CIF State Open Division final, on Jan. 8.
“We would want to get fans in there if we can, obviously,” McDermott said. “It would be better for everybody to see the game and a better experience for the kids on the field.”
McDermott said it concerns him that fans currently are not being allowed at SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams and Chargers.
“So that’s the NFL, and that’s big money, so I don’t know,” he said. “I would guess that if we did it today, which we obviously can’t right now, it would be a big question mark that we have. I’m not a hundred percent sure what they’re going to do.”
CIF does not decide this issue. Local school districts do, and they take their cues from state and county health departments, as well as Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Although practices across the area were shut down this week because of poor air quality caused by fires, football teams have otherwise been able to condition and are now allowed to toss or kick a football back and forth but only in pairs, based on guidelines set by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
There are no indoor activities, either. That’s why many teams are moving their weight rooms outside and underneath their football stands, which is what’s happening at Warren and Lakewood.
Lakewood coach Scott Meyer this week fielded the question regarding fans. His Lancers host Mayfair on Jan. 8 at Wilson High or Lakewood, whose field is currently undergoing renovations.
“I do hope we have fans for a lot of different reasons,” Meyer said. “For our players, especially, to feel that energy, that would be pretty cool. If we don’t have fans, I’m sure that first game would probably be a big adjustment, just not having the crowd noise and so forth.”
In that case, he’d like to emulate what the big boys are doing.
“I’m assuming we would pump in some music as we always do at pregame and maybe even in between the plays, just so it’s not dead silent,” Meyer said. “But I think the guys would learn to play; I think they’ll be very happy that they’re actually playing a game.
“As you see in the NFL, they’re playing with very few people in the stadium as well and they seem to be getting through it.”
Some NFL cities are allowing reduced-capacity crowds.
Even though the health department has approved the limited use of a football for workouts, Warren is still awaiting permission from Downey Unified School District to take advantage of that.
While watching NFL and Major League Baseball games played without fans, Warren football coach Kevin Pearson has wondered if it has affected the psyche of the players. Perhaps not.
“If you know the great athletes, they have intrinsic motivation to be great no matter what’s going on,” said Pearson, whose team hosts St. Anthony on Jan. 8. “So I think that’s how it’s going to be with us. I think we’re going to compete. I think our kids do a really, really great job competing whether it’s in the weight room, in practice.”
Will games even be played?
Pondering whether fans will be allowed at games is one thing. The notion that games may not be played at all is much more alarming.
McDermott really dislikes this possibility.
“We’re trying to be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’re just trying to give kids hope right now because we really don’t know; we’re being truthful by saying we don’t know.
“So we just keep working at it and keep doing what we can do and keep our camps going and make sure we follow our protocols and stay as safe as we possibly can.”
Pearson admits he also has concerns over whether the season will go off as scheduled.
“The flip side of it is that you have to continue to prepare as though you’re going to play because if you don’t play, what have you lost?” he said. “But if you do play, if you’re not prepared, you’ve lost everything. And so, we’re preparing as though we’re going to play.”
Meyer is keeping a good thought because he sees that high schools in other states are playing, colleges are playing — the Pac-12 kicks off its football season Nov. 7 — and the NFL is playing.
“So I’m just trying to remain positive that we’ll get our season in,” Meyer said.
He pointed to a study he said he recently read.
“Those schools that are actually participating in football have seen a lower number in COVID cases,” he said, “and I think when you think about it, getting outside and getting exercise and maintaining that healthy lifestyle of just getting the heart going and getting the blood pumping, you know, probably does help prevent coming down with the virus.”
St. John Bosco and Lakewood have reported no positive COVID-19 tests within their football programs, while Warren had one player test positive in May and the father of a player currently is infected.
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