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Claremont High returns to gridiron, but risks remain

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Friday night as Claremont High School senior running back, Isaiah Love, sprinted down the sidelines after catching a pass from quarterback Ricky Murillo, it was like time stood still just for that moment. And in that one simple pass play, all of the frustrations and constant disappointments brought on by the pandemic disappeared and were replaced by the sudden burst of elation at scoring a touchdown.

Love was, of course, mobbed by his teammates as they celebrated what would be a decisive win over visiting Chino Hills, 28-0. But what was truly striking about Friday’s game was how it seemed to make everyone feel. It was like a hint of the life we all once took for granted. There were cheering fans, although strictly limited in numbers. The varsity cheer squad performed their perfected routines and the CHS band entertained the crowd. The coaches called plays from the sidelines. The wolf call rang out in the crisp evening air every time Claremont scored or got a first down.

Standing on the field at CHS, it could have been September and this win could have been the start of a full season in a new league full of hope for a long playoff run.

But it’s not—it’s March and the season will be just five games with no postseason. Yet really that does not matter in the end, because these young men got the chance to play the game they love, while just one month ago it looked like the virus would win again and deny that opportunity.

There were little signs that things were not normal, like everybody wearing masks for instance, but even that seemed irrelevant in light of the opportunity just to have one of those essential high school experiences that had been absent for so long.

And what a long wait it has been, with moments of hope inevitably shattered by the stubborn virus’ refusal to loosen its grip on the region. However, as the pandemic receded early in the year, new guidance from the California State Department of Public Health allowed both youth and adult team sports to resume practice and competition beginning Friday.

“Updated state guidance allows for all outdoor youth and adult recreational sports, including moderate contact and high contact sports, to resume practice, training and competitions in counties where the case rate is at or below 14 cases per 100,000,” public health officials said on February 24.

The new state guidance requires youth leagues offering moderate and high-contact sports to obtain consent from parents or guardians to ensure they are aware of the risks. Competitions are limited to two teams within the same county or from adjacent counties. Players and coaches who participate in high-contact sports like football and water polo are required to get a COVID-19 test weekly.

However, a cautionary tale of the continued threat posed by the coronavirus emerged earlier this month when CHS Principal Brett O’Connor reported that an outbreak had occurred among the boys water polo team.

In a letter sent to parents March 10, Mr. O’Connor said there were “confirmed cases” involving both the varsity and junior varsity teams. The teams had to quarantine for 14 days and were not able to participate in games or practice. No other students or staff were identified as having been exposed.

In an email to the COURIER, Mr. O’Connor said the positive cases were discovered through CIF-mandated COVID-19 testing, after which the lab informed the school of the outbreak.

The quarantine effectively ended the boys water polo season, which was truncated already by the very late start to all high school sports this year. However, other sports that use the CHS pool, girls water polo as well as boys and girls swimming, will continue.

“CUSD is committed to the health and safety of our students and staff. All current sports team practices and games are following LACDPH, L.A. County Department of Education and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) requirements, ” Mr. O’Connor said in his letter.

Going back to Friday night, the Wolfpack did an excellent job of shutting down the Husky offense all night with key tackles that left Chino Hills stymied. Oddly, in spite of Chino Hills’ struggle to effectively gain yards when they really needed, the Huskies surrendered the ball repeatedly after failing to convert on fourth down.

Claremont had its own issues with its running game, but sophomore Caden Campuzano was red hot with 130 yards of rushing and two touchdowns. Murillo connected with Love when it counted with three completions averaging 43 yards, for total of 128 yards and two touchdowns.

The most interesting “offensive” play for the Pack came in the eighth minute of the fourth quarter. A nice long punt from senior kicker Miguel Lopez put the Huskies deep into Claremont territory, where they took over the ball. Two plays later however, Claremont recovered a fumble bringing up a Pack first down literally in the shadow of their own goalposts, where Campuzano was able to punch it in for Claremont’s fourth and final touchdown. 

Coach Shane Hile told the COURIER last week that his game strategy was the same as with any game. “To play our asses off and then after 48 minutes look up and see what the scoreboard reads.” Well, 28-0 is certainly not a bad score to see after the clock runs down.

After the game Coach Hile said to his team, “Great job we beat a Baseline League team. Enjoy yourself but remain confident not cocky.”

Claremont’s second game will be Friday at 7:00 p.m. at San Dimas.

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