Hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that some high school and youth sports could return to outdoor play as soon as next week under certain restrictions, a judge ruled all sports could resume in San Diego County as long as they “follow the same or similar COVID-19 protocols imposed for competition in professional and/or collegiate sports within the county.”
Superior Court Judge Earl Maas heard arguments Friday afternoon, Feb. 19, in a lawsuit filed by Nicholas Gardinera, a senior football player at Scripps Ranch High, and Cameron Woolsey, a senior football player at Mission Hills High, against Newsom, the California Department of Public Health, the county and its chief medical officer, Wilma Wooten.
The players were seeking the resumption of high school football, saying there “is no medical evidence that competing in team sports is safe for college and/or professional athletes, but not high school athletes.”
In his ruling granting a temporary restraining order, Maas agreed, stating young athletes were not at greater risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 than their professional or collegiate counterparts.
The judge said he was not persuaded by arguments from the state and county that professional and collegiate teams represented a lower risk of spreading the virus due to there being far fewer pro and college teams.
“The game is the same, the risk of spread is similar, the youth are already practicing and with school closures or limitations on attendance, youth are isolated,” Maas wrote.
Another hearing is slated for early next month on a preliminary injunction in the case.
“We’re very excited,” said Marlon Gardinera, Nicholas’ father and the head football coach at Scripps Ranch. “We got some good news in court and the governor’s morning press conference was good news, too.
“Now I hope the indoor sports keep pushing so they can play.”
Newsom’s morning announcement came after new guidance from the California Department of Public Health that outdoor sports could return as soon as Feb. 26 in counties where there were 14 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
Under the new rules, a county’s overall tier designation doesn’t matter. The one metric being used is per capita cases.
San Diego County is currently at 22.2 cases per 100,000, according to county data.
Friday’s coronavirus tracking report from the county listed 812 new cases, the eighth-straight day with a total under 1,000. Total hospitalizations also continued to trend lower, reaching 731 Thursday with 232 in intensive care beds. The report included 34 additional COVID-related deaths Friday, Feb. 19.
Imperial County, which is part of the CIF San Diego Section, is at 18.4, according to their county metrics.
In the CIF Southern Section, all counties are currently over 14 cases per 100,000, with Orange County at 16, Los Angeles County at 17.6, San Bernardino at 19 and Riverside at 28.
“It really all depends on what numbers you’re looking at,” said Brad Hensley of the Let Them Play CA movement. “Either way, we’re over the number, but cases have been going down by 5-10 per week, so there is some optimism here. This isn’t perfect, but nobody expected it would be.”
In his morning news conference, Newsom said high schools would be required to test football, water polo and rugby athletes weekly, adding that the state would supply and pay for the testing. However, the San Diego Section moved water polo to the spring this year while other state sections will start their seasons later this month.
San Diego Section CIF Commissioner Joe Heinz said he is hopeful San Diego County is under 14 cases per 100,000 by next week, which would render the temporary restraining order moot. The CDPH guidance said testing is only necessary when a county’s adjusted case rates are between 7 and 14 per 100,000.
The new guidance seemed aimed largely to get football on the field before schools ran out of time to complete a shortened season; Newsom said he would address adjusted guidances for indoor sports such as basketball at a later date.
Heinz spent the day on calls with conference presidents and will meet with the county’s football coaches to decide a path to play.
San Diego had been hoping to begin football practice by March 1, with games beginning as early as March 12. That would leave time for a five- or six-game season.
“This was really good news today,” said Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick, who is a key member of the Golden State Football Coaches Community.
“If we can get a five- (or) six-game season, I’d be ecstatic. This was a grassroots movement with coaches, parents and volunteers working to get it done.
Heinz said it’s up to the coaches if they’d like a six-game season or five games and a scrimmage.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond credited “pressure” from parents, coaches and athletes for changing Newsom’s stance. Marlon Gardinera believes the court case pushed the governor to make an announcement.
“Your voices were heard. The push, the effort and the rallies were finally heard by Gov. Newsom, and he reacted,” Desmond said. “There are a lot out there that are pretty upset with him and want to get their kids out there on the playing field.
“We still need to get more sports open and more competitions opened, but it has worked.”
California State CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said he would allow the football season to go to May 1. It originally was thought football must conclude by April 17 to allow for the regulation 90 days between this season and the 2021 fall season.
—- John Maffei is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
—- City News Service contributed to this report.