“If you don’t have it, they will move.”
The iconic line from the movie, Field of Dreams, just got an unfortunate update for 2020 as the parents of youth athletes continue to relocate over state lines to find ways for kids to play.
The trend first became evident in late summer as schools began postponing fall championships and moving them to spring – a move that frustrated student athletes, particularly at the high school level. The Washington Post followed the families of youth football players who moved from states like Colorado, California, Washington, Maryland, New York, Virginia and the District of Columbia – to locations including Florida, Georgia and Iowa, where the rules were more relaxed.
“Families across the country are uprooting themselves so their teenagers — at least two dozen, among those whose decisions have been made public — might be able to gain college exposure or simply play one more season under Friday night lights,” noted the Post.
Other youth fall sports where athletes were moving included soccer, competitive cheer, golf, tennis, cross country and indoor volleyball (as well as a few others).
But while many states began giving the okay to sports – and were making arrangements to return to play (a map and notes regarding the availability of sports is available at this link), that doesn’t mean they all were. And those states where sports were not have been avidly pushing to take the field again, using the hashtag of #LetThemPlay to gain grassroots support on social media.
Right now, California is in the crosshairs, as teams are actively seeking out tournaments held in Arizona, where there are no restrictions against gatherings. In other words, that updated Field of Dreams tagline just came true yet again.
The San Diego Union-Tribune noted the phenomenon, using a recent Arizona tournament, the Yuma Fall Classic, as an example. According to the article, in the tournament, held just across the Arizona/California border, there were 51 teams entered in six divisions.
“Two were from Yuma,” the reporter noted dryly. “Forty-nine were from California.”
It was far from the only event in that area with this demographic. Over the course of the Halloween weekend, The Halloween Bash had, at press time, 131 teams registered — 124 from California. And the event owner noted that he had chosen the location because he knew teams over the state line were hungry to play.
“We chose Yuma because it would be close for San Diego and California teams,” says Luis Tovar, a longtime Yuma resident and Southwest region director for National Championship Sports. “It just took off. It’s been blowing up.”
His a-ha moment came suddenly.
“I’ll put it to you this way,” Tovar continues. “I went online because I was trying to get an additional room for one of our umpires. The only thing I found was our Motel 6 in Yuma, which is usually about $50 per night. It was $200. That tells you what the demand is. … The economy here is booming right now.”
The pushback against California's strictures has been growing. According to the Los Angeles CBS affiliate, Olympic athletes have joined the growing chorus of “Let them play.” A group of Olympic athletes along with Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow youth sports competitions to resume. At a rally in Tustin Sports Park, Olympic gold medalist Jessica Hardy Meichtry called the situation “heartbreaking.”
Just as heartbreaking to California’s sports industry is the economic impact that is moving out of state. The Union-Tribune article noted that organizers of the Surf Cup, a youth soccer event, rescheduled their California tournament multiple times. Ultimately, they made a final decision to move it to Phoenix and Scottsdale.
“You’re talking about a lot of money that’s moving out of the state,” Brian Enge, CEO of Surf Cup Sports, told reporters. “I think the biggest issue for anybody who runs events is, with no information from our political leaders and no information from our governor, we have to assume the worst. Nothing has changed since June. There’s nothing about youth sports activities on any of those silly color charts — purple, red, whatever. None of those things tells us when we can open up an event. They’ve basically given us two choices: Go out of business or go out of state.”
The newspaper noted, “According to an economic impact report commissioned by Surf Cup Sports, the 35-plus events it hosts annually at the Del Mar and Oceanside field complexes account for just under 500,000 attendees between parents and children, 155,000 hotel room-nights and $120 million in spending and taxes, which nearly rivals the famed Comic-Con convention in economic impact.”
California’s most recently updated regulations, released October 22, still disallow tournaments, much to the disappointment of event owners in the area – and to the hotels, restaurants and other businesses who would profit from them. The only youth events allowable are training and conditioning, which must take place outdoors in accordance with strict guidelines.
“I don’t think people in San Diego understand how much youth sports events drives revenues to small businesses and tax income for the city and county,” Enge says. “I think they completely miss that, which is why we’re not getting the attention of the politicians.”