A statewide effort to “Let Them Play” hit home Friday afternoon as local students, parents, coaches and community members held rallies in their respective towns to peacefully protest California’s ongoing hiatus for youth and high school sports.
In Hughson and Turlock, rally-goers donned their best school pride and carried signs proclaiming “Sports are essential,” “Let us play,” “Save our season” and more — all part of a unified protest throughout California which saw hundreds of high schools participate. Between the two rallies, athletes from Hughson High School, Turlock High School and Turlock Christian High School were represented.
HHS varsity football coach Shaun King said the rally in Hughson on Friday had one goal. He said he attended the rally not only in support of his own football team, who made it to the second round of playoffs last year, but also for other youth sports like Little League baseball and softball, whose players will be missing out on their second straight season should games remain postponed due to the pandemic.
“Just give us a chance to play,” he said. “We just want a date.”
While team conditioning for some sports was given the green light in Stanislaus County earlier this month, many sports have been waiting in limbo to see when their activity can resume. Based on the state’s color-tiered reopening plan, the California Department of Public Health’s updated guidelines revealed on Dec. 14 that outdoor low-contact sports such as cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field may be permitted in counties that remain in the most restrictive purple tier.
Counties promoted to the less-restrictive red tier may begin outdoor moderate-contact sports like baseball, softball and cheerleading. Outdoor high-contact sports such as football, soccer and water polo along with indoor low-contact sports like volleyball fall under the orange tier. Indoor moderate- and high-contact sports — basketball, wrestling, martial arts — are in the yellow tier.
Under CDPH’s current guidelines, high-contact sports like football and basketball appear to be long shots to take place this academic school year. For HHS senior quarterback Aiden Meyer, the news was a devastating blow for the three-sport athlete. Though he still intends on playing football at Modesto Junior College next fall, missing out on his final season wasn’t how he wanted to end his high school career.
These days, he meets up with his teammates at the park rather than on the gridiron.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I never thought this would affect my senior season when everything shut down in March — I thought it would just last for a few months.”
Supporters of the “Let Them Play” campaign argue that many other states have resumed sports despite COVID-19 and believe California should do the same. THS senior Josiah Gonzales had plans to play football in college and has the grades to attend an Ivy League school, he said, but likely missed out on roster spots to athletes in other states as well as returning players who received a bonus year of eligibility due to COVID.
“Not only is there the emotional aspect of missing your last year playing with best friends you’ve made over the past four years, but also there’s the recruitment aspect of it,” Gonzales said. “It’s hard. I see highlights of kids playing on Maxpreps. I’m already seeing basketball going on in other states when we don’t even have football or any sports. It’s hard seeing these people happy and living their lives like nothing has happened. They’re wearing masks of course, but they’re still enjoying their season while I can’t even get one game.”
California’s stringent rules when it comes to youth sports during COVID have forced some student athletes to transfer schools or even travel out of state to play. THS parent Kristin Patterson said her son has aspirations of wrestling in college and traveled to Oklahoma recently in order to participate in a tournament.
“We were always on the go and never had any spare time, but now I really miss not having that spare time. We’re just trying to stay positive,” Patterson said. “What I have seen from my kids is a lower motivation to want to get their schoolwork done. They tend to want to do better when they’re able to play sports.”
THS sophomore cheerleader Peyton Roberts echoed Patterson’s sentiments.
“It just doesn’t feel fun,” she said of her online classes. “I don’t want to do school anymore if I can’t cheer.”
Kian Gerig was one of two TC students to show up to the rally. The high school senior had been looking forward to his final year of basketball, he said, especially after missing last season due to a hip injury.
“It’s really sucked, to be honest with you,” Gerig said. “I just really want to be able to play sports. I hope the rally today can spread the word and help people become aware that we want to play. It’s not a matter of we’re okay with not playing, because we’re not.”
For more information on the status of youth and high school sports in California, visit www.cifstate.org or www.cdph.ca.gov.