Air quality, referee shortage concerns loom on the eve of high school football’s return

Final Quarter

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – On the eve of the high school football season, there has been rolling momentum across the Sacramento region leading up to opening night.

“It’s almost surreal where we are at,” said Will DeBoard, assistant commissioner of the CIF’s Sac-Joaquin Section. “We are 24 hours from football.”

“I’m pretty optimistic. I think we’re going to get through it OK,” said Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Mike Garrison.

There was no fall season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, football at the high school level in California was played during the spring, with just 4 or 5 games for most schools and no playoffs.

Now though, there are no COVID protocols holding back play to start the season.

“We’re definitely planning as if things are going to be normal, and they may not be normal, and we’ll have to adjust,” DeBoard told FOX40.

During Thursday’s media briefing, the Sac-Joaquin section addressed some of the issues facing opening weekend, starting with a referee shortage.

“Every one of the games are covered this week, so we have every game covered,” Garrison said. “They are four-man crews though, not five-man crews so they had to scale down to four-man crews to be able to cover everything.”

“Yeah, it’s going to be a juggling act, and it could be a juggling act for a lot of our sports this year,” DeBoard added. “Hopefully things improve.”

This season it’s not just the number of referees that are concerning, it’s also the number of athletes playing football.

“The number of schools that are struggling, that number seems to be a little higher this year,” DeBoard explained.

“A lot of that might just be the fact that they didn’t play last year, and now they’re working,” Garrison said. “I mean, I just don’t know. It seems like a whole different world right now, especially we got over this pandemic, trying to get to normalcy and now California is burning up.”

That brings us to maybe the biggest cloud hanging over opening night Friday, the air quality index is almost certain to cancel games in El Dorado County and beyond as wildfires continue to threaten the region.

“I think a lot of games are going to happen,” DeBoard said. “I think there will definitely be some smoke cancelations, and if you’re in El Dorado County, probably some fire cancelations as well. Safety first. Elsewhere, we’re probably going to have a lot of games out there.”

Schools in the Sacramento region will wait until Friday to officially make the call if they are playing or not based on the AQI.

If they can’t play, they’ll have all the way up until Tuesday to try to get their games in.

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