Student-athlete advocates get the ‘W’ as California lifts sports ban

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Student-athlete advocates get the ‘W’ as California allows youth sports to resume
Richmond High's head football coach joined other coaches and 100 student athletes to demand a swift return to sports at the California Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 11, 2021.

Outdoor athletic competitions such as football, soccer, baseball and cheerleading can resume with modifications for counties which have a COVID-19 case rate at or below 14 per 100,000, California public health officials announced today, marking a hard-fought victory for a grassroots coalition of tens of thousands of coaches and athletes throughout the state who have been advocating since Jan. 1 for the safe return to youth sports.

Currently, Contra Costa County’s case rate has been on a downward trend and is at 16.4 per 100,000, per state data. Right now, 27 counties have a case rate at or below 14 per 100,000.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released updated guidance on public and private youth and adult recreational sports that allows outdoor high-or-moderate contact sports to be played in counties that are in the red and purple tiers of the state’s color-coded system for determining the risk from COVID-19 spread. In counties with a case rate between 7 and 14 per 100,000, weekly testing is required for football, rugby and water polo players ages 13 and over.

Outdoor moderate-contact sports, such as baseball, cheerleading and softball, can be played without the testing requirement, CDPH said.

CDHP Director Dr. Tomás Aragón cited declining case rates and hospitalizations for the updated guidance, as well the importance youth sports are “to our children’s physical and mental health.”

The latter point has been hammered home by coaches and student-athletes. The Golden State High School Football Coaches (GSHSFC) and the  Let Them Play CA movement, a coalition representing more than 700 California coaches and 60,000 student athletes and their parent, have been loudly urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift the nation’s toughest restrictions on youth sport. The coalition presented data and research showing minimal spread of COVID-19 in dozens of states where sports seasons have been completed during the pandemic, along with research suggesting the ban on sports is having a significant negative impact on student scholarships, futures and mental and physical health.

Last week, coaches joined 100 student-athletes in delivering 10,000 letters and signatures to the Governor’s Office urging an immediate return to youth sports. Serra High Head Varsity Coach Patrick Walsh spoke out and was among the leaders of the movement. Richmond High Head Football Coach George Jackson was among those who spoke during the event. Nearly half of the California State Assembly and California State Senate supported their cause.

Today’s action by the state is a lesson in perseverance to youth athletes statewide, according to a joint statement by GSHSFC representatives Patrick Walsh, head varsity football coach at Serra High; Justin Alumbaugh, head varsity football coach at De La Salle High; Ron Gladnick, head varsity football coach at Torrey Pines High; and Let Them Play CA organizer Brad Hensley.

“When something matters to you and it is important, no matter the odds, no matter if you win or lose, you try,” they said. “The simple act of trying can set events in motion that motivate, guide, and teach you how to struggle for something that matters.  We tried for you in this case for a very simple reason: we love you, and we believe in you.”

GSHSFC and Let Them Play CA expressed gratitude for the passion and volunteerism of students and families, and to Gov. Newsom and his staff led by Jim DeBoo for their receptiveness and cooperation. They additionally thanked Singer Associates Public Relations San Francisco, saying “their wisdom, guidance, and friendship throughout this process made all the difference in getting our message out to the media.”

“Your steady hand and guidance were essential to our most essential group — our kids,” the coalition stated.

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