By Cheryl Akpenyi, Catherine Gonzalez, and Jeremy D. Thompson

Saugus High School Varsity Lacrosse defensemen Sean Galbreath left. Cade Quinlon, right, congratulates goaltender Christian Thompson, center, after a 20-5 victory over Crescenta Valley at Canyons High School in their last game before the COVID-19 shutdown on March 10, 2020. After a one-year pause, William S. Hart Union School District sports return to action this month. Jeremy D. Thompson/CanyonsNews 

Bleachers will be sparsely-filled and largely silent as spectators return to watch, but not cheer for, student-athletes under guidelines announced by William S. Hart Union High School District.

The Hart District announced sports will resume this spring, following Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines. COVID-19 has changed how high school sports have been experienced due to the precautions participants must follow.

With both fall and spring sports compressed into an abbreviated schedule, logistics for teams have become complicated.

“Sports may be using the field at the same time like soccer, lacrosse, and football,” said Dave Caldwell, Public Relations Officer for The William S. Hart High School District.  

Seating capacity will be limited, with social-distancing required. Fans must be 6 feet apart and wear masks. Each athlete will submit an entry list of up to six people, with only two observers allowed in at a time. Keeping groups small is vital in trying to manage the virus.

“They’re trying to make sure there’s enough room for everyone to be socially distancing. No one younger than 18 is allowed in,” said the Athletic Director at Saugus High School, George Lopata.

Additionally, the recommendation is to try to refrain oneself from chanting, singing, and cheering. These activities increase the volume and spread of respiratory droplets. Sports will be different not only for the observers but especially for the players. 

“Of course, it takes away a little bit, but we try to focus on the positive,” Lopata said of the no-cheering rule’s effect on school spirit. A month ago, we didn’t have anything, so it’s extremely positive to be back. We try to focus on one thing at a time.”

“Students have not even focused on the fact that the fans cannot cheer. They are just so excited to get to play finally that I don’t think that will make a difference,” said Kerri Johnson,  Golden Valley High School Athletic Director

Players also decide if they want to keep their mask on during the game or not but will have to conduct physical distancing. If they’re not in the game or on the sidelines, they have to wear a mask and remain 6 feet apart.

Members of the Saugus High School Varsity Lacrosse team practice on March 4, 2021, at Central Park in Santa Clarita, CA, ahead of their return to play. High school sports have been on hold for more than a year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Saugus High School Lacrosse Foundation Instagram.

Outdoor competitions permit low, moderate, and high contact sports. Teams will play each other if both are located in the same county or located in immediate borders and counties.

But going to games will be different, too. According to The LA County Department of Public Health, high-risk passengers must wear a face mask if traveling by bus. The team must be physically distanced at least 6 feet apart; windows must remain open for the whole trip. 

Traveling by bus with a group of people is already dangerous, but if teams have social distance onboard, will there be enough space to fit everyone? 

“The problem is the buses,” Caldwell said. “If there’s a student on the right, the one on the left has to sit across from them. There won’t be enough space, you can’t fit the whole team on the bus.”

Lopata added that it’s up to staff to make sure the new rules are adhered to.

“We don’t have COVID police. They’re relying on administrators and coaches to do the best they can,” Lopata explained. But failure to comply could bring stringent penalties. “We can be shut down if we don’t follow protocols. It’s as simple as that.”

Caldwell emphasized that maintaining vision is important for the future of high school sports.

“Remembering what the objective is for this re-opening is important,” said Caldwell. “It’s for the student-athletes to get out there on the field and go out and play. It’s not about the desires of who’s watching the game but of the players.”

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