Youth sports guidelines tied to California’s COVID-19 color tiered system could be in for an overhaul as the time frame dwindles for athletics to be played in the state this academic school year.
The Golden State Football Coaches Community and the Let Them Play CA — founded by California parents in response to the state’s restrictive guidelines surrounding youth sports during the pandemic — is holding a live, virtual media-only press conference Friday to provide an update on where they are in the process of working with the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and the California Department of Public Health to safely resume youth sports for the first time since the pandemic began in March.
The groups are requesting youth sports be detached from the California color-tiered system entirely, citing data from other states, workout data from California football programs, decline of mental health and impact on low-income children as reasons why athletics should be resumed under reasonable COVID-19 safety modifications.
“We are confident that our data in these four areas will convince you that California can safely and quickly return to competition with reasonable Covid-19 safety modifications,” the contingent said in a letter addressed to Gov. Newsom. “This return will afford us the opportunity to reverse the youth mental health crisis.”
The state Public Health on Monday lifted the Regional Stay Home Order across California that had been tied to ICU bed availability, leaving counties in the color tiered system to determine what businesses are open and as it relates to youth sport guidelines. On Tuesday, 54 of the 58 counties in the state are in the most restrictive “widespread” purple tier, including Shasta County. The only two counties in the Northern Section CIF are Trinity County (red) and Sierra County (orange).
Moving sports up a tier, such as football from orange to red, has been part of the discussions, said Foothill High head football coach Joey Brown, one of the Northern Section CIF representatives for the coach’s group. But he backs the association’s push to rid athletics of the entire colored tier system.
“Some want to push other sports to other tiers but honestly it’s not fast enough,” Brown said. “I honestly think we can do all sports safely with COVID protocols in place.”
The push comes the same week as Santa Clara County instituted severe limitations on youth sport guidelines, which included restricted groups staying 25 feet apart, essentially barring any high school sports season. The county reversed course the following day after receiving heavy push back from parents and coaches to align with the rest of the state guidelines set by the CDPH, the same guidelines the GSFCA and Let Them Play CA are trying break away from.
Proven data sports can resume safely
The associations argue more than 40 states have permitted youth athletic competitions during the pandemic and were successful at the implementation of reasonable safety measures without posing a significant health risk increase.
“California doesn’t have to pioneer efforts on how to safely play youth sports,” the letter said, signed by 10 members of the GSFCA from high schools spanning the state.
Additionally, workout data collected from more than 275 high school football programs since May 1 reveals coaches created a safe environment for the state’s youth under statewide safety protocols. The rate of transmission was 1 in 97,516 athletes and 6.5 percent of coaches but only 11 positives among athletes and two positives among coaches can be attributed to practice, according California High School Football Workout Data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out Tuesday saying “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
Impact on youth
The ban on youth sports during the pandemic has caused a negative mental health impact and a growing concern about suicide, anxiety and depression. According to the report, more than 3 million children in California ranging from T-Ball to youth soccer to high school sports have been “benched” since March.
A Let Them Play CA parent survey reports 74 percent of kids show signs of anxiety and 66 percent of children show signs of depression. Pair that with how mental health pediatric ER visits have increased by 31 percent from 2019 to 2020 for children ages 12 to 17.
“There are already extensive mental health repercussions from the lack of youth sports, and the current mental health crisis will get exponentially worse as this year goes on,” the letter reads.
The ban on sports is causing a “devastating impact” for inner city youth with coaches reporting a rise in academic ineligibility, gang membership, drug and alcohol use, dropouts and incarcerations due to student-athletes “lacking direction and a team identity that previously brought discipline, accountability, and hope to their lives.”
The socioeconomic divide is also growing during the pandemic without sports, the contingent said, pointing out inner city youth turn to gang and violence while affluent families engage in school COVID workouts and club teams that may travel out of state for competitions.
“The current moratorium on California youth sports creates an alarming social equity disparity that is very transparent,” said the GSFCC.
Sports by current color tiers
As of Monday, all youth sports in the purple tier can operate under the Health Department protocols in Shasta County. Trinity County is in red while Sierra County is in orange.
PURPLE: Cross-Country, Golf, Tennis, Track & Field, Ski/Snowboard, Swimming
RED: Baseball, Softball, Field Hockey
ORANGE: Football, Soccer, Volleyball
YELLOW: Competitive Cheerleading, Basketball, Wrestling
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