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Major Efforts to Bring Back Youth Sports: Are You Involved?

13 May, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Two weeks after initial letters from the PLAY Sports Coalition were delivered to members of the United States Congress, the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports have joined in the effort to save volunteer-driven youth sports organizations.

The coalition — a newly-formed united front of more than 400 national and local youth sports leaders — now has the backing of Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) and Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.). They will call on their congressional colleagues to include youth sports providers in an economic stabilization fund.

According to the coalition, their support will be “critical … to ensuring young people have access to sports in a safe environment and receive the physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits organized sports provides, especially in sports-based youth development programs.”

“While most organized youth sports are on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that youth sports organizations are able to survive until it’s safe to resume organized sports again,” Kind said in a statement.

PLAY Sports, which stands for “Promoting Local and Youth Sports,” was formed in April in the wake of the pandemic.

As the coalition noted, The Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative reports that “nearly 60 percent of local sports leaders said their organizations will project to lose at least 50 percent of their revenue over the next year due to COVID-19. They have experienced, or are facing, layoffs, furloughs, bankruptcies and facility foreclosures. This includes direct impacts to millions of grassroots coaches who provide invaluable time and leadership to their young athletes and sports.”

“The economic losses suffered by this forced pause, while not unique to youth sports, applies to the program providers, particularly sports-based youth development programs serving at-risk youth from under-resourced communities, as well as event facility hosts and large numbers of employees and contractors who make sports possible,” an April 21 press release from the PLAY Sports Coalition stated. Priority consideration in the disbursement of any federal funds will be given to programs supporting underserved communities, including girls and kids with disabilities, the coalition added.

The designated fund also would include reimbursement for lost expenses (including camps and clinics) funding for employee and contractual-related expenses needed to continue operations beyond the allowable period of the CARES Act, and competition and event cancellations that are non-refundable or insurable, according to the coalition.

Meanwhile, in early May, The Aspen Institute introduced what it describes as the “first cross-sport risk assessment guide” that outlines how various sports and recreation activities can be enjoyed while minimizing transmission of the coronavirus. Information included in the “Return to Play” tool are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and were reviewed by experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and officials from national governing bodies.

“Our goal was to create a tool for individuals and families to assess risk in a variety of common sports and recreational activities based upon the best available research from health experts,” says Ruth Katz, executive director of the Health, Medicine and Society Program at The Aspen Institute, which also hasdedicated an entire section of its website to coronavirus and youth sports. “Using our tool can help you decide how to stay active based on your preferred activity or sport.”

Institute officials emphasize the “Return to Play” document “should be treated as a general informational resource only, rather than medical advice or a recommendation to participate in any one activity over another.”

Local efforts to jumpstart youth sports are underway around the country, too. One of them is in San Diego County, Calif., where county supervisor Kristin Gaspar is spearheading the Game On San Diego initiative, with the mission of “building a safe plan back to ALL sports for ALL San Diego youth.”

“The immediate and time-sensitive initial step of the Game On San Diego coalition will be to assist sports organizations and leagues in developing sport-specific physical distancing and safety plans,” according to the Game On San Diego website, which points visitors to an example of a completed safety plan for county golf courses. The plans will be submitted to the San Diego County Public Health Office and eventually to Gov. Gavin Newsom in an effort to demonstrate that a given sport is ready to return to play safely.

“If we just sit back and do nothing, we will miss entire sports seasons and, as you know, youth sports are incredibly important for all young people,” Gaspar recently told Good Morning San Diego on the city’s independent TV station KUSI.

She also cited the socioeconomic divides that occurred in youth sports during and after the 2008 recession, adding that she does not want to see a repeat of that, as “people have been hit hard” by the pandemic. (To that end, some youth sports leagues are offering payment plans or even deferring payment for participants who sign up now.)

“We can’t work in silos,” added Gaspar, who is a youth cheer coach. “We have to work together. We need to have universal protocols [for individual sports]. That way, we can all sign off on the same safety protocol … and we can move forward.”

As the Game On San Diego website emphasizes, “[w]ithout a coalition, sports families and organizations will struggle, and a return to play will be further delayed, if not fail.”

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