Football players return to pads and COVID-19 tests

Hart Linebacker Dylan Vradenburg wears a face mask under his helmet as he runs drills during a Hart High School football practice at Hart High School in Newhall on Wednesday, 030321. Dan Watson/The Signal

For a three-day period starting Tuesday, the William S. Hart Union High School District football players took their first COVID-19 tests as part of the requirements for them to begin full-contact play.  

Coaches and players for the West Ranch and Hart high schools’ programs took COVID-19 tests Tuesday so they could suit up in pads Wednesday, with Canyon, Golden Valley and Saugus high school players tested Wednesday. Valencia High and Castaic High football players are expected to be tested Thursday. 

The tests are part of an agreement Hart district officials signed with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital on March 1, which calls for students and coaches to receive tests at a cost to the district of $65 each for the first 8,500 tests, which then reduces in cost to $59 per test. 

Football is the only high school sport that’s requiring the athletes to take a test in order to fully return, and players will be required to take one each week until the end of the season April 17. Hart district officials were happy to report that 100% of the players tested on Tuesday came back negative for COVID-19.  

Hart High football coach Rick Herrington said his football players, especially the seniors, were excited to come back to the field and work out together as a team after having spent the last few months working out and lifting weights with workouts led via Zoom. The students would either use weights they had at home or fill their backpacks with anything heavy they could find, including at least one player who filled his bag with uncooked pinto beans, in order to do squats and lifts virtually with teammates.  

Hart High School varsity football defensive backs (cq) coach Michael Carr, wears a mask as he throws to players during practice at Hart High School in Newhall on Wednesday, 030321. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We’re the first school to get tested, and so we had people lined up here (at the school), and we had them getting their COVID test,” said Herrington, adding that Henry Mayo’s staff was able to test and return results on every single one of Hart’s 75-80 players, including the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams.  

Once the season begins, students will have to be tested once again on game day, in addition to the test they receive during the week for practice.  

Hart High Athletic Director Keith Matkin said the players’ presence on the field Wednesday showed just how happy they were to be playing their sport again.  

“I have faith that the guys who came back out really do want to do this, especially the seniors,” said Matkin. “They have three months left of high school and they could’ve been on Easy Street… it’s a commitment they made thinking that they were going to be doing this in August, and here we are in early March. And I’m super excited that they came back, and I think it’s going to be fun.” 

Hart High School varsity football head coach Rick Herrington, reads helmet protocol to players before football practice at Hart High School in Newhall on Wednesday, 030321. Dan Watson/The Signal

Herrington said the coaches are working with the players to ensure safety and proper mask-wearing is followed. 

“We’re trying to figure out the mask thing with the helmets and mouthpieces and all that stuff,” said Herrington. “And the district is trying to think about it, too.”  

The first Foothill League game of the season is set to take place March 18 between Canyon High and Saugus High at 7 p.m. Observers are limited to household members only (two members per athlete in Foothill League competitions), competitions are between two teams only, and sport-specific hygiene protocols must be in place, district officials said on Wednesday. Hart district officials will be checking identification at the gate, according to Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell. 


Herrington said the testing would occur once a week and be administered by Henry Mayo hospital staff, until either the season ends or until the county’s daily numbers drop below seven cases per 100,000 people. As of Tuesday, the case rate was 7.2 per 100,000 within Los Angeles County, according to state Public Health officials. 

Hart High School safety, Daniel Lawson wears a mask during football practice at Hart High School in Newhall on Wednesday, 030321. Dan Watson/The Signal

The testing contract was approved through district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman’s COVID-19 emergency powers, district officials said Wednesday, adding they expected the contract to be reviewed and ratified at the district’s March 19 meeting. For its part of the contract, Henry Mayo staff is giving nasal swab tests that have a 94% accuracy rate, results in 10 minutes or less and conducting all of a team’s tests in about an hour.   

“What we’re doing is we’re setting up in the school’s gym, and there’s some chairs that set up, 6 feet apart and their pods get escorted in one by one,” said Angie Luna, the supervisor for Henry Mayo’s urgent care, referencing each team’s individual pod, or group of 10-12 student-athletes who have been allowed to work out among one another during the past few months. “It’s kind of a pop-up situation.” 

Luna said she has been moved to tears when she tells a team or pod of athletes they’re able to play again after a year of isolation. She said it’s normal for teammates to hoot, holler and jump around in joy together when they’re cleared.  

“The accuracy of the test is 94%, which is amazing to me because it lets them say, ‘OK my team is good to go,’” said Luna. “I think it’s a great thing that there is a benefit to being able to provide students with the ability to be tested, on site, without a cost to them, and I think it really is just providing a safe environment for them … after not being on campus for so long.” 

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