Nearly 12 months after shutting down all sports competitions and activities because of the novel coronavirus, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Wednesday that interscholastic competition will resume.
The decision is a major policy change from Supt. Austin Beutner, who said in November said that if it wasn't safe enough for students to be in classrooms, it wasn't safe enough for sports competitions to take place on a field. Students have been attending classes via computers and will continue to do so.
The memo says with rates of COVID-19 cases continuing to decline, students will be allowed to move forward with conditioning and CIF competitions. All activities will be held outdoors with strict safety protocols and weekly testing. Football, cross-country, baseball, softball, water polo, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field and cheer are the sports mentioned. It will still be up to individual principals whether to resume sports activities.
"I think it's a long time coming, but we're cautiously optimistic how we're going to navigate things," Garfield football coach Lorenzo Hernandez said.
Added Granada Hills Kennedy football coach Troy Cassidy: "We're ready to go. We've been collecting physicals since July. It's excitement for the seniors and excitement for the younger guys. The most important thing is for seniors getting their final games in a Kennedy uniform."
LAUSD has put together one of the largest testing programs in Southern California. Last November, LAUSD briefly let teams condition as long as coaches and students who visited campuses were tested weekly. A surge in coronavirus cases forced campuses to close in December.
Now the challenge will be getting athletes in shape. Sports activity in LAUSD was ordered to cease on March 12, 2020. Campuses closed the following week. Some athletes have not had a workout with their coach since last March. Coaches have been limited to guiding students through virtual video calls.
The pressure to allow students to return to sports has been building. The California Dept. of Public Health cleared the way last month for all outdoors sports to resume when a county's adjusted COVID-19 case rate drops below 14.0 per 100,000. Los Angeles County reached that level last week and has continued to decline. Cross-country meets have been allowed since Jan. 25.
Independent charter schools El Camino Real and Birmingham have moved forward resuming sports activities. Schools around Southern California began football practices Feb. 26. LAUSD coaches have watched with growing uncertainty and confusion as neighboring districts moved forward while LAUSD offered little communication about where things stood. "No update" became the weekly update.
Some areas served by LAUSD have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 in Los Angeles, creating safety concerns. There's also ongoing negotiations with the teachers union on how to reopen classrooms. Vaccinations have only become available on a larger scale for education personnel since Monday. Many of the coaches in LAUSD are walk-ons.
The fact LAUSD has finally decided to move forward with a return to sports will help the district avoid potential uncomfortable issues ahead. If a season hadn't been played, athletes would have had the option of switching schools with no eligibility limitations. That could have produced an exodus of top athletes. The start is already too late for the No. 1 City Section lineman in football, junior Shlomo Bass. He decided to move from Fairfax to Mission Viejo last week.
A meeting of district athletic directors is scheduled for Thursday to try to review what a return to sports will look like. Teams have begun scheduling practices beginning Monday.
LAUSD schools make up a large part of the City Section. With LAUSD resuming, the City Section could be able to hold championships and playoffs in such spring sports as baseball, softball, lacrosse and swimming.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.