let them play
Photo courtesy of Anthony Linebaugh
Jason McLarty and Jarrett Kerin throw medicine balls during one of the Hawks’ recent conditioning sessions.

With just four and a half months remaining in the school year, local youth and prep sports have been put on standby as the COVID-19 pandemic has put state, county and school districts in the position of figuring out when they feel they can safely allow student-athletes to play.

Between last season’s spring sports season and this year’s fall season, athletes haven’t been able to take the field, court or track and several groups across the state are hoping that that will change given current statistics.

Corona del Mar High School football coach Dan O’Shea and San Mateo Serra coach Patrick Walsh started the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community, connecting with coaches throughout California to help give sports the green light.

Local varsity high school football coaches Anthony Linebaugh and Tim Cobleigh are both members of the group and are hoping to get their teams on the field this season.

Numbers from a survey that surveyed 251 coaches in the state between May and December noted that less than three percent of 19,630 student football players had COVID-19 and nine positive cases were attributed to workouts conducted at school. The numbers are based on estimates by football coaches who belong to the GSHSFCC.

Among the posts featured on online parent group Let Them Play CA’s Facebook page, which had 40.2 thousand members as of Jan. 19, are those from parents sharing their senior athlete’s pictures and stories as well as posts from parents of underclassmen and others working to organize rallies, some of which occurred Jan. 15 throughout the state, to spread the message that sports can be just as important as learning in the classroom.

A Jan. 15 post on the page by Brooklynn Keuning McClure that asked if anyone “has been seriously considering moving to a different state so their children can have more ‘normal’ lives and play sports again?” had 2.5 thousand likes as of Jan. 19 with 877 comments, with many answering yes and some saying that they’re currently in the process of moving.

Another post from Jan. 16 by Dove Shukartsi Mayo asked “as a parent, why are we not allowed to decide if it is safe or if it is not safe for our child to play?” with a mostly positive reaction from the 147 comments posted as well as critical comments sprinkled in between.

According to state health officials, sports can resume as early as Jan. 25. With season start dates having already been pushed back this year, however, uncertainty by those close to youth sports is well-deserved.

Local and state health offices that have been implementing actions as a response to the pandemic regarding playing sports note that the current guidelines, which are spread across color-coded tiers, are to ensure that youth can play safely with minimal risk of acquiring or spreading COVID.

However, for coaches who work with youth every day whether on campus or on Zoom, their goal is to look out for their students’ mental well-being as well.

“Their focus is just really trying to get the kids back out on the field and just trying to get us aligned with some kind of plan to get back on the field,” Cobleigh said of the football coaches’ community.

Season one sports teams including volleyball, football and cross-country resumed conditioning in Galt Jan. 11 after a hiatus.

“I think with football maybe not being a club sport and it’s really connected with the high schools and everything- the opportunity to just get out there and be part of a team, they’re not getting their opportunities, the kids aren’t,” Cobleigh said.

Linebaugh, who oversees all sports on campus as Liberty Ranch’s athletic director in addition coaching football, noted that the Hawks’ ‘fall’ sports teams are currently training three days a week, with all training being conducted outside, except for the Hawks’ cheer program, in which “everything is being done remotely.”

Returning to team conditioning has been a step closer to playing an actual game, but that occurrence seems far off given current progress toward getting on the field.

“For coaches only one case is connected to contact training. We want the Governor to see that we can respect protocols and have a season. We’re doing everything we can to give our kids a chance to play,” Linebaugh said of the football coaches’ group.

“The numbers are okay. The kids are really busy these days. As the days go on, I think it makes it harder for them to go out there but we still have a good core of kids out there. They’re ready to go,” Cobleigh said of roster numbers.

“Through education and research, awareness can be increased so that families can make thoughtful decisions regarding their children,” Linebaugh said. “In order for that to happen, our Governor needs to work with the 10 sections across the state in order to make that happen. We just want to see that play. This is for football and all sports. We don’t want to lose the Fall.”