By Alfredo Santana
BELL — Organized sport activities are back in Bell, following the City Council’s vote to pay for a myriad of temporary jobs to follow county health protocols and test for, trace and control possible COVID-19 transmissions among unvaccinated athletes 12 years and older, and all adult coaches.
The City Council voted in September to fund salaries for eight part-time workers and two office aides through December, plus 22 more staff from January to June 2022.
The city will spend $240,000 to cover the staff positions, including one full-time position, from funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden last March to support and maintain existing municipal services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision followed a discussion of a survey conducted among parents that resulted in 58% of the respondents in favor of continuing with the recreational programs as planned before a spike on summer cases brought by the Delta variant forced the cancellation of outdoors and indoors leagues.
Reopening tournament sports contrasts with other area cities like Downey. That city is holding off a restart of youth recreation leagues, but has affiliates that may engage in action if their sponsors follow health mandates to prevent and document COVID-19 infections.
Bell Vice Mayor Ana Maria Quintana supported the measure that lifted the self-imposed ban on organized youth sports on Oct. 4.
“I do think that it’s important that we now focus on making sure that we bring some normalcy to residents,” Quintana said.
The leagues’ partial shutdown took place the first week of September, after the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health amended health protocols for school and sports leagues requiring unvaccinated youth of any age, trainers and adult staff including volunteers to test negative once a week before any indoor competition.
County health officials advised those with one shot in a two-dose regime to be screened twice a week until they are fully inoculated.
Also, similar sanitary measures now apply to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children 12 and older and coaches at outdoor games against local or regional opponents.
Furthermore, they must be tested 72 hours before any matches versus adversaries from other counties or from out of state.
Children under 12 playing outdoors are not required weekly screenings, the health department said, but it recommended tests once a week to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Fully vaccinated children do not need to be tested, unless someone in the team or staff is infected, followed by negative weekly tests for two weeks in a row and negative results prior to games within the same timeframe.
The federal Food and Drugs Administration authorized COVID-19 emergency vaccines for children 12 years and older, but none for younger children. It is expected that a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination for children 5 to 11 years may be authorized by the end of October.
Downey, a city with a sizable recreational program of more than 50 indoor and outdoor sport classes, followed suit early in September and shut down competitions for all youth, and like Bell, switched to offer outdoor skill camps with social distancing.
A city employee said Downey has not resumed matches or activities that require adherence to the stricter and more expensive COVID-19 county protocols, and continues to hold outdoor skill camps keeping participants six feet apart.
Downey has eight youth sports affiliates that hold games and tournaments in city fields maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreations.
Bell has opened enrollment for youth baseball, youth soccer, pee wee basketball and a skills soccer program for toddlers called “Chupones soccer” after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted most pandemic restrictions on youth sports June 15 along with the reopening the economy.
Before its funding decision, the City Council mulled over two more options that called for continuing skills camps that did not require weekly coronavirus tests, or a full cancellation of sports activities with a partial inscription refund or credit.
Community services director Alan Perdomo said in a report that unvaccinated participants will be asked to get COVID-19 tests, submit results 72 hours before any event, and pay for the expenses.
Perdomo said the full-time office assistant was promoted from within existing staff, and will receive an annual salary of $30,900. He added the city would notify “all community members of the new requirements as they relate to public health and youth sports organized programs.”
Bell enrolled 528 children for leagues and skills programs at the onset in July through November 20, 2021. For the same period, it reported 70 coaches employed and zero assistants.
The city projected a sports enrollment increase to 1,340 kids for spring, summer and fall activities in 2022.
In Whittier, a city with a myriad of youth sports affiliates and two baseball tournaments for children under 12, organized games are going ahead with teams pledging to follow the stricter health rules.
Whittier Parks and Recreation Director Virginia Santana said city staff meets with youth sport parents and coaches once a week to make sure they are following COVID-19 county health guidelines, including face masking and hand sanitizing.
“The 12 years and older divisions have protocols to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect everyone involved,” Santana said. “Whether they are adults or children that qualify [for vaccines].”
She said several hundred parents volunteer to run youth sports leagues.
The city supports the American Youth Soccer Organization, or AYSO, Whittier Girls Softball, Whittier National Junior Basketball, the Redskins Football and the Trojan Football & Cheer and the Whittier Area Youth Soccer.
Like Whittier, Paramount does not offer a lineup of organized youth sports, but supports four independent groups that conduct a baseball league, a football and cheer program, an instructional soccer league and girls softball.
Erika Carmody, Paramount’s recreational activities supervisor, said an indoor Ju Jitsu class programmed to start this month focusing on self-defense for students from 7 to 15 years old is safe, and follows facemasks protocols.
“Ours are contactless classes,” Carmody said.