California

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Tired of Traveling, California Parents Demand Return-to-Play Guidance

9 Nov, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Parents in California are railing at officials for procrastinating about offering the return-to-play guidance they have promised.

Already, they note, a complete lack of response has led to a movement of teams out of state to play in more liberal Arizona, with event owners relocating their tournaments there as well.

And while parents say they are glad to have the option to have an adjacent state offering tournaments (not all states do), they are also aware that traveling is a risk.

“(Secretary of the California Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly) is ignoring public health on this,” a soccer dad who travels out of town so that his daughters can play a soccer game against another local team, told the local CBS affiliate. “He’s causing us to go stay in a hotel. He’s causing us to go to a field that we don’t know to play against kids that are in the same school district as some of our kids. So if anything, he’s encouraging the spread of COVID instead of us being at home… he’s actually making the situation worse.”

Parents say it’s an economic hardship as well.

“We’re going to Arizona. We’re paying thousands of dollars to go to Arizona so we can scrimmage. It’s a joke,” said Kelly Lake, a Carlsbad resident and mother of four children.

The joke is on the California economy, says Kris Mims from the Brushback Baseball Club in Mountain View.

“It hurts the economic standpoint. It’s not just baseball that’s taken a hit. It’s when you travel, teams coming in to stay at hotels, it’s running to restaurants in between games, it’s renting cars, it’s airfare, it’s a big hit,” said Mims in an interview with KRON-4.

The fact that no definitive announcement appears to be coming makes it worse.

During his October 19 briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that “team sports guidelines” would be announced “hopefully as early as late this week or early next week.” The following day, Dr. Ghaly announced updated guidelines specific to professional sports stadiums. When questioned about youth sports he said, “Stay tuned, it’s something we’re working on now.”

Parents are tired of staying tuned for an announcement that does not appear to be coming.

According to the local CBS affiliate in Sacramento, California athletes and their families have organized multiple rallies over the past couple of weeks and youth soccer governing bodies from both Northern California and Southern California sent letters to the governor urging him to provide a timeline for a return to play.

The letters ask for a clear “phased, safe, return-to-play plan” and point to the unintended consequences of the state’s lack of information, including an increasing number of families who are traveling out of state to compete.

“We pay the wages of our public officials and they’re ignoring our kids,” said sports parent Russ Perez.

On late October, a Placer County soccer club reported that 90 percent of their parents voted to begin traveling.

A key reason many programs elect to travel is the need for high school-age players to get playing time during live games for their college recruiting videos.

“I hope it all goes back to normal and we can just play and not have to travel to Arizona to play two games,” Macy Kelly, a 14-year-old soccer player, told a San Diego NBC affiliate at a “Let Them Play” rally.

“It’s really stressful. It’s really hard seeing teams around the rest of the country who are playing games and it makes us feel like we’re falling really far behind. Because when we actually get to play in front of college coaches the teams that have been playing for months will be way ahead of us,” said competitive soccer player Sydney Boyd.

Holly Casey, a local soccer parent, told KRON she and other parents have tried to reach county and state leaders with little success. She says it seems like youth sports have been put on the back burner, and it’s gone on for far too long.

“The fact that it just hasn’t been addressed since August … it’s a failure I feel like on everybody’s part,” said Casey.

An article in Voice of OC noted that parents say kids have no choice but to play on the road. Huntington Beach parent Mina Rose told reporters her daughter’s skills are getting rusty because she can’t play school games, which could be dimming her hopes of playing college soccer. In the meantime, her daughter has been practicing at the Great Park in Irvine. 

“It’s changing the trajectory of these kids’ lives forever. My daughter wants to play soccer in college,” Rose said. “They’ve been practicing, but this practice … they all have to stand so far apart and kick the ball around and if they get too close, somebody in a golf cart comes and yells at them.” 

At a Thursday news conference, Dr. Matt Zahn, director of the Communicable Disease Control Division Orange County at the county Health Care Agency, said public health officials haven’t seen any cases stemming from the out-of-state sports trips; however, Orange County's case numbers are increasing and there have been nine new deaths from COVID. 

According to ABC News, Orange County officials, youth sports coaches, and Olympic gold medalist Jessica Hardy Meichtry, held a press conference Monday calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to resume youth sports games in the state because they believe it can be done safely.

"Sports for me personally were the only way I stayed out of trouble growing up. It allowed me to give me full outlet of energy and excitement and pent up frustration, you know things you go through normal childhood experiences," said Hardy Meichtry.

"Our children learn enormous amounts about themselves, about the world, about competition. They learn to win, more importantly they often learn to lose. They learn to push themselves. They learn to work as a team and none of that learning is getting done today," said Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner.

The state’s current rules can be found here.

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