The Capistrano Valley Christian and Calvary Chapel of Santa Ana high school football teams played a game Saturday, Jan. 16, that might have violated CIF and Southern Section rules as well as state health orders that are in place because of the pandemic.
Thom Simmons, a CIF Southern Section assistant commissioner and spokesman, said the section office began gathering information Sunday after learning of the contest.
“We are still looking into it,” Simmons said via email. “However, the decision to allow athletic teams to resume is an individual school/school district/private school decision, following the guidelines developed by the California Department of Public Health and local health authorities.”
This appears to be the first reported case in the state this school year of two high school teams playing a game in school uniforms and using school equipment despite guidance from state and high school sports officials against such competitions.
The California Department of Public Health issued guidelines last month that said high school and youth sports competitions are not allowed until Jan. 25, at the earliest, because competitions increase the likelihood of transmission “due to mixing of households, traveling, and unavoidable physical contact.”
As Simmons noted, schools in the Southern Section are expected to follow guidelines developed by the CDPH. If they don’t, they could be penalized.
The head coaches for Capistrano Valley Christian and Calvary Chapel, which are both private schools and not part of a school district, confirmed Sunday that their teams played a game Saturday at Calvary Chapel that included full uniforms and spectators but with adjusted rules.
“It was more of a glorified scrimmage,” said Calvary Chapel coach Pat McInally, a former NFL player who has coached at the high school level for more than a decade. “There were no kickoffs, and no kicks at all, really. We had very limited parents (at the game) — mostly just parents.
“It was good for the kids, I think.”
The contest violated the regional state-at-home order that prohibits “private gatherings of any size” in Orange County. The stay-at-home order was put in place last month to combat the surge in coronavirus cases throughout the state.
Capistrano Valley Christian coach Eric Preszler confirmed the game was played Saturday but declined comment.
He tweeted a photo Saturday that showed him talking to Capistrano Valley Christian players in full uniforms, pads and helmets.
Orange County Football Officials Association assignor Paul Caldera said his group did not assign officials to work the game.
“I did not assign it and I was not notified about it,” said Caldera, who also is the CIF-SS liaison for Orange County officials. “It’s being looked at and that’s all I can say about it right now.”
The CDPH has placed high school and youth sports into four tiers that are based on a sport’s level of contact and a county’s COVID-19 infection rate.
Orange County is in the purple tier, meaning there is “widespread risk” of contracting the virus in the county. When a county is in the purple tier, only low-contact sports, such as cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field, are allowed to have full practices and play games.
McInally said Calvary Chapel football has followed the COVID-19 safety protocols, which include wearing masks and social distancing, during its practices.
“Our school has been following those rules,” McInally said. “And I follow their (school administrators) lead.”
Football is in the orange tier for a “moderate risk” of spread of the virus. Until a county moves into the orange tier, football teams are not supposed to hold practices or play games.
In recent weeks, there have been a lot reports about newly formed football club teams and leagues for high school-aged players starting up. Some of these teams have played games at a facility in Corona.
There have also been club games and tournaments for other sports, including basketball, baseball and softball, played locally despite the state guidelines.
But the difference is this: These are club teams, not school teams.
Officials in Riverside and San Bernardino counties have acknowledged they have received complaints about these contests being held for club teams, but so far there have been no reports of action taken against any of the organizers, teams or coaches.
On Friday, Jan. 14, hundreds of parents and student-athletes attended Let Them Play rallies in Orange County in an attempt to urge state officials to allow for high school and youth sports to resume as soon as possible.
According to Southern Section rules, a team must complete a minimum of 14 days of practice before competing in a game and a minimum of 10 days of practice before competing in a scrimmage.
McInally said Calvary Chapel did that.
“It was all done within CIF rules,” he said.
The CIF-SS office is supposed to announce an update Tuesday regarding the playoffs and championships for Fall/Season 1 sports. Football is in that group.
The high school sports calendar usually begins in August, but all sports have been on hold because of COVID-19. Teams have been allowed to conduct limited practices and conditioning in recent months if their school or school district approved it.
Many of the coaches and parents who helped organize Friday’s rallies said the shutdown of high school sports has taken a toll on the athletes.
“Kids are getting destroyed – mentally, emotionally, and developmentally – but no one is looking at that,” Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick told the Southern California News Group. “We want to be safe. We want to do the right things and we want to be good for kids.”