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South Orange County student-athletes join #LetThemPlayCA rallies

San Clemente and San Juan Hills are rivals whether on the football field, the basketball court or the baseball diamond. 

But the student-athletes from both schools came together to fight for the same cause.

The message was simple: they want to play.

San Clemente and San Juan Hills were just two of 138 high schools in California who participated in a statewide rally on Friday afternoon urging state health officials to lift restrictions on high school and youth sports. 

Other participating schools included El Toro, Laguna Hills, Tesoro, JSerra, Capo Valley, Mission Viejo, and Trabuco Hills. 

The rally was put on by Let Them Play CA, a local group of parents, coaches and youth advocates in San Diego.

None of the participating schools’ administrations have publicly acknowledged the rally other than a since-deleted post by El Toro High School.

Let Them Play CA was started when former high school coach Ken Elliot got together with Brad and Kristin Hensley, parents of a high school student who expressed extreme frustration that the sports seasons were in jeopardy.

The Facebook group was lunched Jan. 1 and now has 33,000 members.

“We have waited and watched for over 10 months while our California youth suffer,” Let Them Play CA group cofounder Kristin Hensley said in a press release. “Over 40 states have let their children play sports safely, and all the data collected shows that these sports succeeded in providing healthy activities for our children while not spreading COVID-19.

“It is time that we as adults stand up for our children and get sports back for them. Not tomorrow, not this summer, not next year. We can do it safely. We need to do it now.”

Elliot expressed that he wants decision-makers at the local, county and state level to know that the group is out there and is well-organized with the science that says they should be allowed to play sports, particularly outdoors. 

California is just one of seven states who have not allowed sports at the high school level to commence since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and one of 16 states who have not allowed high school football according to the the National Federation of High Schools.

According to a study compiled by football coaches in the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community that included 251 schools from across the state, more than 19,000 athletes have worked out with coaches and there were 522 reported cases of COVID-19.  Of the 2.6 percent of student-athletes who were infected, 98.5 percent of the coronavirus cases were traced back to a different location of infection. 

California has been a hotspot during the coronavirus pandemic, with 2.8 million total cases and 298,358 cases this past week. 

Let Them Play CA plans to send a formal letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting a meeting and an opportunity to present the science that was researched and collated with regard to how safe it is to complete. 

Elliot said it does not matter if fans will be allowed to attend high school sporting events, he just wants to give the student-athletes an opportunity to play.  What he doesn’t want to see is sports cancelled until the 2021-2022 season as student-athletes lose out on an entire year of sports and scholarship opportunities. 

“There are so many negative health ramifications with kids not playing,” Elliot said. “There is obesity, anxiety, and depression. If we can get these kids back out on the field, court or pitch. That’s a win.”    

The California Interscholastic Federation shut down high school athletics all together after the arrival of the COVID-19 virus this past March, and then this past December set strict guidelines about when it would be safe for student-athletes to start competing again. 

The various sports have been placed in different tiers ranging from minimal coronavirus exposure to widespread exposure. If the state decides to lift the stay-at home order that was put in place on Dec 3, only four California counties will fall outside of widespread exposure.

That means the only sports student-athletes are able to participate in are cross country, golf, skiing/snowboarding, swimming & diving, tennis and track & field. 

“These parents and student-athletes are frustrated, they are upset, they are sad and they are tired of this,” Elliot said. “There are people out there who are trying to help them and there is a place (in the Let Them Play CA Facebook group) where they can go to share information and stories and pitch in to help.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the CIF plans to announce an update regarding whether or not the 2020 fall and winter sports seasons will able to be played in the immediate future, but for now, all student-athletes can do is try to have their voices heard. 

Ryan was born and raised in Dana Point went to Dana Hills High School. He graduated from Sacramento State University with a BA in Journalism. Throughout his career as a sports journalist, he has covered high schools, colleges, and professional teams. After working for multiple newspapers in as many states, he came to the conclusion that what he really wanted was to make sure the high schools in his hometown area got the sports coverage they deserved. Follow him on Twitter @rskuhn

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