Local students, parents, coaches and community members held rallies in their respective towns last Friday to peacefully protest California’s ongoing hiatus for youth and high school sports due to safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Hughson, Turlock, Oakdale, Ripon and Manteca, “Let Them Play” rally-goers donned school colors and carried signs proclaiming “Sports are essential,” “Save our season,” “We can be safe” and more — all part of a unified protest throughout the state which saw hundreds of high schools participate.
Between the four rallies, athletes from Hughson, Turlock, Pitman, Turlock Christian, Oakdale, Ripon, Ripon Christian, East Union, Manteca, Sierra and Lathrop high schools were represented.
Hughson High School varsity football coach Shaun King said the rally in Hughson had one goal. He said he attended the rally not only in support of his own football team, which 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,” King said. “We just want a date.”
No protests were staged in the city of Ceres.
“It makes me happy seeing people fight for us to play sports,” Central Valley High School senior football player Isaiah Hidalgo said. “They’re getting their message across. If there was an organized event in Ceres, I would have attended. I would have worn a mask to be safe.”
“It shows how much sports really mean to people,” Ceres High senior football player Amare Padilla said. “Everyone wants to have a season. We really want to play.”
Padilla and Hidalgo both expressed interest in attending protest rallies in Ceres in the near future.
“It’s something we’d possibly do if we have enough people on board,” Padilla said. “If you really care about something, you go and fight for it.”
“It would be a good idea if students from both schools worked together on this,” Hidalgo said.
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 Hughson High 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,” said Meyer. “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.
“I haven’t heard when the season is supposed to start,” Padilla stated. “There’s still hope. We don’t believe the door is closed all the way.”
“A lot of us are sad,” Hidalgo added. “We really want to play.”
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.
Turlock High parent Kristin Patterson said her son has aspirations of wrestling in college and traveled to Oklahoma recently in order to participate in a tournament.
For more information on the status of youth and high school sports in California, visit www.cifstate.org
Courier sports reporter Dale Butler contributed to this report.
Manteca Bulletin sports Jonamar Jacinto contributed to this report.