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SAN DIEGO – It’s not just student-athletes and coaches who are excited for the return of youth sports.

Kevin Haws, a veteran high school football official and president of the San Diego County Football Officials Association, says he’s “eager” to officiate football games again, even with new COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place.

“We’re all not only eager to get back on the field, but happy things have moved in the right direction with COVID,” said Kevin Haws, a veteran high school football official and president of the San Diego County Football Officials Association.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials shut down youth sports competition last year as part of a series of sweeping restrictions implemented upon the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as the pandemic dragged on through the year and into 2021, parents and supporters of the Let Them Play CA movement applied a full-court press to local and state officials, urging them allow youth sports to resume.

Some got their wish last week when a San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled that youth sporting activities can resume in the county “as long as the(y) follow the same or similar COVID-19 protocols imposed for competition in professional and/or collegiate sports.” The Feb. 19 ruling came the same day California officials revised guidelines to allow activities in counties with relatively low rates of new COVID-19 cases.

If he were asked several months ago about officiating a football game, Haws, who also works in health care, said he would have thought it was crazy given the high levels of new infections.

“The football official part of me said, ‘Can’t wait to get going,'” he said.

Upon their return, officials will have to follow strict CIF guidelines and modifications. For Haws, it begins with pregame preparations.

“We have to be masked up before we get there,” he said. “Normally we would have an opportunity to go into one of the locker rooms and change into our uniforms. That stuff is all gone. We’ll show up in uniform, ready to go. Most of us will probably carry a bottle of hand sanitizer.

“There’s no sharing of water bottles, food or any of that stuff.”

While guidelines require weekly testing for athletes and coaches in high-contact sports, Haws says there is no mandated testing for officials — but they will be screened before games.

“Our focus has always been on two things – sportsmanship and safety,” he said.

More information on how to work as a football game official can be found here.