Hundreds of parents and student-athletes from Orange County and across the state rallied on Friday, Jan. 15, to express frustration over the postponement of youth and high school sports competition due to the pandemic, and to push for games to resume safely as soon as possible.
They donned face coverings and held signs such as “Save our sports” to rally for #LetThemPlayCA, a grassroots organization of parents, coaches and youth sports advocates. The group, with more than 33,000 members on Facebook, wants high school and youth athletics competition to begin immediately.
Mission Viejo High senior Brenndan Warady, who plays football and runs track, said the loss of games has affected his pursuit of a college football scholarship.
“It’s really screwed up (college) recruiting for so many kids,” he said. “Our voices need to be heard. We need to have a season. We’ve worked so hard. This has been our dream since we were 5, 6 years old, playing flag football. We’ve done the work. We’ve gotten great grades, and it’s very unfortunate that this happened, and it’s out of our control.”
At Cypress High School, Kim Monteleone, a parent of four teenage athletes, held a sign that read “They won’t get this time back” and led a rally of about 30 people in front of the Anaheim Union High School District school.
“Nobody is really fighting for these kids and I needed to do something (for them) to be able to sleep at night,” said Monteleone, also a high school teacher in the Bellflower Unified School District.
Rallies were planned at about 138 schools around the state, including more than two dozen in Orange County, at the same time Friday afternoon, event organizers said.
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) January 16, 2021
High school and youth sports competitions have been prohibited by the state Department of Public Health since Aug. 3, but training is allowed, and state officials may clear some low-contact sports such as cross country for competition as early as Jan. 25.
But competitions can only take place in counties that have emerged from the state’s regional stay-at-home order, something only the Northern California and greater Sacramento regions have achieved, as coronavirus cases elsewhere have spiked in recent weeks.
The state’s latest guidelines also clear sports for competition based on their level of contact, indoor or outdoor setting, and level of COVID-19 risk in the community. Traditional fall sports such as football, boys water polo and girls volleyball, for example, are considered a moderate risk for the virus. Most counties in the state are in the widespread risk category, while the window for fall sports competition steadily shrinks.
Football in the CIF Southern Section, for example, has until April 17 to play its games in an already-adjusted schedule. The section plans to provide an update on fall sports playoffs on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
“It’s a time crunch, absolutely, but it can be done,” said Let Them Play CA organizer Ken Elliott of Oceanside, an attorney and former coach. “It just takes leadership with the correct information and the will.”
The group believes health data supports its desire to play games safely. It points to information from the newly-formed Golden State High School Football Coaches Community that shows a low rate of COVID-19 transmission duriing workouts held in the state from May to December.
The coaches say the rate of transmission was 1 in 103,766 for athletes and 1 in 69,622 for coaches. Their report concluded that 98.5% of the COVID-19 cases among those groups were traced to a family member, public gathering or travel.
The coaches also note that 34 other states, including Texas and Florida, played their football season this school year.
“There’s an incredible amount of data piling up now that basically says COVID is not spread by outdoor sports,” said Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick, a member of the coaches community. “That’s the data we want government to look at.”
Added Cypress football coach Rick Feldman: “I think that we can make it safe for us to play football right now. We just have to take the steps to do that.”
UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said he believes organized high schools sports should be sidelined “a little while longer” because teens in the 14-19 age-group may be spreading the virus with no symptoms. He contends younger children in AYSO soccer, for example, could safely hold matches, but high school athletics needs to factor in possible virus mutations, warmer weather conditions and the prevalence of vaccinations.
“Data from multiple countries, including Canada, shows that high school-age people seem to be the leading edge of the positivity in the fall waves of the pandemic,” Noymer said.
“I’m not worried that the kids are going to get sick (from sports). I’m worried that the kids are going to become asymptomatic spreaders, and that affects everyone in the community.”
Despite the state guidelines on high school and youth sports, club competitions have continued with teams traveling out of state, or finding locations in Southern California. Traveling out of state for games and playing in-state are against current state guidelines but the activity continues in several sports.
Melissa Auten, mother to a Laguna Hills High sophomore and an eighth-grader, has traveled to Nevada and Arizona during the pandemic for games.
“I’ve been forced to take my children to play other places, which I feel very fortunate to be able to do – but not everyone can get in the car, pay for hotel expenses and food to allow their children to participate in sports still,” said Auten, who added no one in her family has contracted the virus.
Others are concerned about the mental health of students denied the chance to play sports. Noymer, a soccer fan, blames the pandemic for robbing youth of some physical and emotional elements of their childhoods. Gladnick said coaches are worried.
“Kids are getting destroyed – mentally, emotionally, and developmentally – but no one is looking at that,” Gladnick said. “We want to be safe. We want to do the right things and we want to be good for kids.”
Alyssa DeCleene, a junior on Cypress’ CIF championship cheerleading squad, shared her personal hurdles as she rallied Friday. Not only does she miss cheering at football and basketball games and pep rallies, she has struggled with distance learning.
“It’s just awful, ” DeCleene said. “I can’t see my friends. We didn’t have the homecoming game. We can’t have pep rallies. And we can’t just be out with our friends all the time, and we’re just stuck inside. … Everybody is always like, ‘Be a kid while you can.’ Well, I can’t be a kid if you’re making me stay inside all the time.”
Source: Orange County Register