Football Team Finally Kicks Off the Season

Jonathan Gelfond

Jinheon Kim, Staff Writer

Pali High’s football team played its season opener against Western League rival Venice on Friday, April 9, and there is no disputing that the team’s road to get to this point was a long one.

The journey began six weeks earlier with a car rally protest on Bowdoin Street, the curvy road that separates the main campus from the stadium. 

All sports teams in the Los Angeles City Section were not allowed to practice because of the ongoing pandemic, which prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to shut down schools more than a year ago. 

When transmission rates declined and more individuals gained access to one of the federally approved COVID-19 vaccines,  school officials were able to slowly begin the process of reopening campuses. Many athletes at the school were allowed to begin practicing on March 15, a little more than two weeks after the car rally in front of the school.

“Football, to me, means everything,” senior Isais Alegria. “I have created so many memories that I will cherish forever. The football team is my family, and I am excited to get back on the field with them.”

That passion to play is what prompted players to demonstrate in front of Pali at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26. Approximately 20 to 30 cars loaded with players and supporters participated in the rally, according to junior and varsity football team member Jack Babala, one of the event organizers.

Babala said he and his teammates believe that participating in sports “is safe, [as] the people most in charge [are] educated daily on how COVID-19 is morphing [and] will make all decisions in the best interest of the players.”

Alegria agreed, adding, “I  believe that it is safe for football players to start practicing again.” Players and staff are required to take weekly COVID-19 tests and daily COVID-19 symptom checkers to ensure their safety.

Both Alegria and Babala said that they are willing to go through any health precautions and procedures to restart the season including, as Alegria put it, “weekly testing, constant mask-wearing/social distancing and daily temperature checks.” Alegria joked that he was willing to “bubble [himself] for football to start again.”

President of Pali’s Quarterback Club, Lisa Manheim, stated that the group “believe[s] all athletes should be allowed to play” and “absolutely support[s] them.” She said that they were in a hurry to start practices as soon as possible because “many local high schools have been conditioning since fall, while our campuses were locked down.” 

“We should follow whatever the LA County Department of Health (DPH) and California Interscholastic Federation Guidelines are,” Manheim said. She stated that she is “frustrated that LAUSD often has stricter guidelines than DPH.” Manheim said she believes that it is safe for the season to start. She cited reports from Governor Gavin Newsom, stating: “COVID-19 is not spread during such [sports] activities. 49 other states figured this out before California.”

Assistant Principal of Athletics, Russel Howard, said that there is “always a risk to reward in all decisions.” Howard said that he was “fine with the protest” and that he “trusts the LA County Public Dept. of Health.” Pali is strictly following the DPH’s rules to keep players safe and has opened most other sports.

To the protesters, these changes are necessary and critical. 

“Football and any other sports are really important for student-athletes,” Alegria said. “Sports change lives and can lead the way to many new opportunities.”