Temperature checks and liability waivers: the new reality of high school sports in San Diego

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Posted at 11:32 AM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 14:37:28-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — High school athletes across San Diego County are waiting to find out if they’ll have a season this fall.

The decision from California Interscholastic Federation is expected to come by July 20.

In the meantime, some school districts, like Sweetwater Union High School District, have canceled summer workouts out of concern about the pandemic. Others, like Poway Unified and Grossmont Union, are allowing them with social distancing measures and new liability waivers specific to COVID-19.

The CIF does not oversee summer practices, said San Diego Section President Joe Heinz, meaning it’s up to districts to decide whether to allow activities on their athletics fields and how to safely manage them.

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PUSD began allowing summer workouts for football, soccer, field hockey, and other sports in mid-June, after the district created its own set of safety measures from county, state, and other guidelines.

"We feel pretty comfortable about what it is that we’re doing," said Rancho Bernardo Athletic Director Peggy Brose. "So far so good."

Teams have staggered practice times and specific entry points to avoid crossover, she said.

Upon arrival to campus, staff check each athlete’s temperature and screen them for symptoms. Each athlete must bring hand sanitizer and their own water bottle. Players are required to wear masks until they reach designated areas.

RELATED: California CCAA moving all sports to the spring

On the field, students are kept in the same groups of 12 or less each day. For football, players are grouped by position. Summer football workouts are focused on strength and conditioning; contact and pads are already not allowed.

Other safety measures vary by sport. In basketball and field hockey, for example, athletes have their own ball assigned to them to avoid sharing, Brose said.

Although she acknowledged the school cannot entirely eliminate the risk of transmission, she said supervised activities at school may be inherently safer than unsupervised ones.

“We can control them when we have them,” said Brose. “What we can’t control is what they do on their own.”

Mt. Carmel High School Football Coach John Anderson said the response from parents in his program has been clear.

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“We have 20 more kids this summer than last summer,” he said. “So parents are really encouraging their kids to come out and play.”

But not all. 10News spoke with a Poway Unified parent who kept his son out of summer athletics out of concern about the virus.

“How can they not be infecting one another?” he said.

The parent, who asked to have his name withheld from the story, provided photos of a workout on a football field with what he considered poor social distancing.

“While they’re doing the calisthenics in warmups they are trying to keep six feet apart, they observe the distancing,” he said. “But when they’re running, they start bunching up.”

The parent said he is a strong supporter of high school sports, but said the risk of transmission, particularly when athletes are breathing heavily, is too great.

“COVID has been hard on everyone, particularly young people, but the good of the community should come first,” he added.

He was concerned after Poway Unified required parents to sign a new waiver, releasing the school from all claims related to COVID-19 and acknowledging that participation in summer workouts could lead to transmission of the virus that could spread to an athlete’s parents or family members, potentially causing death.

Grossmont Union High School District also added a mention of COVID-19 in its liability waiver.

“Will the younger people die? Probably not,” said the parent. “But they’re going to go back and continue to spread it to their parents and grandparents who are at greater risk.”

That risk has prompted other districts, like the Sweetwater Union High School District, to ban summer practices entirely.

“We continue to be very concerned about the increases of cases in our communities, at a rate significantly higher than in other communities within the county,” Chief Compliance Officer Vernon Moore wrote in a letter to parents.

Citing updated guidance from the state, Orange County banned all youth sports practices as of this week, but for now, San Diego County says it will allow them.

“I think it can’t do enough for their mental health, their self-esteem,” said Coach Anderson. “Being cooped up in their houses for the last few months, to get out, run around and be active is really beneficial to their mind and body.”