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Youth Sports Confusion Continues: Parents Calling For Statewide Guidelines

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Parents are calling on the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to issue clear youth sports guidelines as the state and counties continue to flip-flop on permission to play. Many worry that the longer the state waits to issue guidance, the greater the risk to kids. Many kids are playing sports anyway.

Prohibition Basketball 

CBS13 has heard from numerous parents and coaches over the past two weeks who are concerned about ongoing youth basketball tournaments at a gym in Rocklin, CA.

None would agree to speak with us on camera due to fear of retaliation against their kids or teams. However, many voiced concerns about hundreds of players, traveling from the Bay Area and beyond, who might unknowingly expose each other to COIVD and then spread it among their local communities.

ALSO READ: Placer Youth Soccer Club Violates Health Orders, Holds Indoor Training

CBS13 spoke with several parents whose kids' teams have participated in the tournaments - they did not allow their kids to attend. We also heard from multiple coaches whose teams chose not to participate in the tournaments in addition to others in the youth basketball industry.

Some told us they don't think all the parents and coaches, who are traveling in from out of town, realize tournaments are not allowed in Placer County.

Several said they notified Placer County health officers and/or the Sheriff's Office. In response, the county posted signs outside the gym stating "sports tournaments are not allowed."

The signs were torn down and tournaments continued as Placer County was added to the state's watch list this weekend and indoor businesses were shut down.

READ: Churches, Gyms, Malls And Salons Ordered To Close Again In 30 California Counties — Including Sacramento

CourtSide Basketball Center declined to comment. Placer County Health officers also did not provide a comment after days of repeated requests.

In a statement, CDPH said:

"The Governor has consistently said that asking people to do the right thing is the most powerful enforcement tool we have. We all have a shared responsibility to do the right thing to not only protect ourselves, but those around us."

Placer County Sheriff's office said, in part:

"The Sheriff's Office continues to take an educational stance with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. The most appropriate and least intrusive way to solve compliance concerns is for parents and business owners to operate safely and be in compliance with the suggested guidelines."

However, parents say that's the problem: there are no official guidelines.

Permission to Play? 

"Without guidance, I think people make up their own rules," said Christina Lincicum, a baseball mom from Orange County.

She was just one of the dozens of parents and coaches from across the state who contacted CBS13 after our recent investigation revealed that the state gave some counties permission to allow distanced drills and training before quietly backtracking without explanation.

CBS13 obtained a communication between Placer County and CDPH. Placer specifically asked, "Are distanced drills and conditioning activities allowed for youth?" The CDPH health officer responded, "Yes, … provided they comply with the gym and fitness center guidance."

But weeks later the state told CBS13 that the drills and conditioning were never allowed and confirmed that the gym and fitness center guidance does not apply to youth sports.

ALSO READ: State Flip-Flops On Youth Sports: No Team Drills Or Conditioning Allowed In Any County

"I really was excited to see the story because I felt like it was bringing awareness," Lincicum said.

Like Placer County, Orange County, where Lincicum lives, was among several counties that began allowing some sports under the state's gym and fitness or camp guidance.

Orange County has now suspended youth sports after the state clarified that youth sports were never allowed under any guidance issued to date.

But many parents feel the communication obtained by CBS13 proves that it can be safe to play with specific guidelines.

"We've taken school away from them and now we're taking away physical health," Lincicum said. "I feel like the kids are being punished."

Unlike Orange County, Placer County indicated that it is going to let its current interim guidance stand until the state issues official guidance.

"CDPH has voiced their intention to the County that they plan to post language on what is/is not permitted in terms of drills/conditioning to the website, which is the website referenced in the state order, thus carrying the weight of law," a county health officer said in an email.

"If and when they post a correction, Placer County Public Health will update its guidance accordingly. To date, the state does not appear to have done so."

So, unlike basketball tournaments, which were never allowed under any state or county guidance, both club and high schools sports teams appear to have permission by Placer County to continue distanced drills and conditioning under the county's interim guidance.

But CDPH reiterates the drills are still not allowed under the Governor's order.  When CBS13 asked for specific language on the website that specifically prohibited distanced drills and youth conditioning, the state provided the following response:

"When California began the reopening process under the stay-at-home order, the state was clear that the businesses and activities that could reopen would be opened under a specific process. The state issues guidance determining how to reopen these businesses/activities safely and counties help decide when to reopen under the state's guidance. No state guidance has been issued for youth sports or recreational team sports, therefore those activities are not allowed at this time.

The stay-at-home order went into effect on Thursday, March 19. The order is in place until further notice and covers the whole state of California."

Confused? You're not alone.

CBS13 heard from athletic directors and coaches from across the state following our previous report. They came to us looking for clarity and additional information after reading through contradictory guidance from leagues, conferences, school districts, and counties.

One Placer County athletic director sent an email to parents questioning the accuracy of our report. However, an Orange County school district told a Southern California publication that they independently confirmed the information laid out in CBS13's report.

NOTE:  Both state and county health officers confirm that there is currently no distinction between the official state/county health guidelines for AAU, or High School (CIF) sports, though each league/club may institute additional return-to-play guidelines that must adhere to the state/county guidelines.

"Let Them Play!"

CBS13 has heard from parents across the state who stress team sports are crucial for their kid's physical and mental health amid the pandemic, and for the future of their education.

A growing number of groups are calling on the state to issue guidelines for safe play. The Facebook group "Let Them Play! Bring Back High School Athletics" has amassed more than 11,000 members.

"I literally get hundreds of calls from teams that are ready to play," said Steve Williams who runs another basketball gym in Rocklin. He admits that he was also holding tournaments until Placer County told him to shut them down. He says he continues to rent out his courts to teams for practice, drills and conditioning.

Williams is among many calling for youth sports guidelines, noting that canceling tournaments has not stopped teams from playing. He points to local teams traveling to tournaments in other states, including Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.

"It's safer to put forth some guidelines where players can do something because it is happening," Williams said.

He says he understands why some parents are concerned and don't want their kids to play. "I think there are both sides," he said. "I think people understand that parents should have some say over their kids' lives."

Williams adds, for some kids, team sports can be "one of the only positive interactions they have with the leadership, with coaches, and with mentors."

Parents Want State Guidance Now

Many parents worry that the longer the state waits to issue guidance, the greater the risk to kids' health, their futures, and their 2020-21 seasons. Because even if a few counties are allowing conditioning, they can't have a normal season if teams in other counties can't play.

Parents want official guidance before it is too late and some worry that the few teams violating health orders may put all of their kids' seasons at risk.

Lincicum adds that specific guidance is needed for each individual sport because you can't lump indoor contact play with outdoor distanced drills or socially-distant sports like baseball.

"You know, specificity, I think, would really help all the parents, regardless of the sport their kid plays," she said.

Absent clear statewide guidelines, many are allowing kids to play "prohibition ball" as they call it, and are coming up with their own health guidelines ranging from small groups to temperature checks to masks for adults.

"No matter what, I think families are going to try to find outlets for their kids. If we have the guidance, we can do that more safely," Lincicum said. "That's what I would like to say to the governor. 'Please, let's give the kids a safe place to play again.'"

At CourtSide in Rocklin, they appear to be making some changes.

Videos and photos posted by teams on Instagram in June showed few masks. Photos taken at a recent tournament indicate the gym is now requiring masks on adults and was selling them for $1 per mask. There are hand sanitizing stations and the gym reports its sanitizing benches between every game. 

However, concerned parents point out that the kids are not wearing masks and the tournaments continue to draw players from outside the region.

Unlike the drills and conditioning for local teams, that have been allowed by Placer County, health officers specifically told the gym to stop holding tournaments and even put up signs outside the gym reiterating that "tournaments are not allowed."

Several parents tell CBS13 that they worry, once the state does finally issue youth sports guidance, all team sports will be penalized due to those who are blatantly violating health orders. Though for now, there does not appear to be any enforcement by any agency related to youth sports.

The Current Guidance

The CDC has issued "considerations for playing youth sports" however, it is not official guidance for return to play. That has to come from the state.

CDPH tells CBS13:

"Nothing has changed since we last corresponded on this issue, and there is no separate guidance that covers some of the youth sports you reference below. Until the state issues guidance, youth sports are not allowed. We don't have an ETA for that guidance, but will let you know when we have an update."

CDPH previously clarified its definition of "youth sports" refers to any related activities including distanced drills and conditioning, tournaments, high school sports practices, and even gymnastics classes.  The state clarified that none of those activities are currently allowed under the Governor's order.

However, the current interim guidance in Placer County does still allow for some distanced drills and conditioning.

Placer County has also been publishing responses received from CDPH here. To clarify, this is not necessarily published guidance from the state. It is our understanding that this is simply the county publishing correspondence between county health officers and state health officers.

Here are some of the relevant sports responses:

Youth sports

Per CDPH: "Youth sports practices with non-household members would not be permitted; athletics can only be done with members of the same household. Youth sports are not currently permitted.  Guidance specific to youth sports will be issued later in Stage 3."

Athletic drills

Per CDPH: "Drills, that do not involve team contact are permitted in counties with a variance to the extent that they can comply with the gyms/fitness studios guidance"

However, the CDPH fitness guidance specifies:

"…organized activities and sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, and football that are held on park fields, open areas, and courts are not permitted to the extent that they require coaches and athletes who are not from the same household or living unit to be in close proximity…"

"Members of the same household may engage in such activities and sports together."

Other relevant responses from CDPH to Placer county (found here):

Sports camps

Per CDPH: "Sports-themed day camps are not permitted at this time with day camps. Sports camps will be considered in a separate guidance with youth sports. Sports camps doing drills only are permitted so long as they can so the drills within the gyms/fitness studio guidance." 

Swim lessons

Per CDPH: "Swim lessons can resume in counties with a variance following the gym/fitness studio guidance" 

Golf lessons

Per CDPH: "Golf lessons are allowed in a county with a variance. Yes, please use the outdoor recreation and limited service guidance."

Dance studios

Per CDPH: "Yes, dance studios are permitted so long as they can follow the fitness studio guidance."

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CBS13 Investigates COVID Youth Sports Guidelines

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