‘Let Them Play’: Athletes urge state to change its youth sports gameplan

Torrey Pines High School athletes participated in a Let Them Play rally on Jan. 15.

Across the state of California on Jan. 15, young athletes, coaches and parents participated in “Let Them Play” rallies, pushing for a safe return for prep sports.

Locally, along Del Mar Heights Road in Carmel Valley, rallies were held at Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic high schools. Other high schools across the county joined in, including Oceanside, Carlsbad, Ramona, Poway, La Costa Canyon and more. The message these athletes hoped to send to Governor Gavin Newsom: “Sports are essential”.

That morning, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond held a pre-rally press conference at Torrey Pines, joined by coaches such as Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick and Cathedral Catholic’s Sean Doyle, as well as Brian Enge, CEO of local soccer club Surf Cup Sports.

Cathedral Catholic Dons take part in the "Let Them Play " rally.

“For thousands of senior student athletes across our county these arbitrary lockdowns mean never playing for their school again,” Desmond said, asking for the state to make adjustments in its reopening game plan. “Our weaknesses in COVID are our elderly and infirm. Our strengths are our youth. Let our kids play.”

Senior Mandela Tobin, a football player from Westview High School, also spoke at the pre-rally press conference, sharing how playing football or any other sport is so vital for teenagers. More than just a game, he said it’s a way to get away and find a healthy release from hardships at home, school or in their personal lives and to just have fun: “We play to just be ourselves.”

Over the last week, Coach Gladnick said he had been portrayed as the face of the movement locally but he said he represents 600 head football coaches and 6,000 staff members who are working to tackle this issue with the state.

“We, as coaches, in California stand with teachers. We understand their concerns, we understand their problems and what we want to do is work together to provide a path for everyone to be safe: For teachers to be safe but also for kids’ mental health and wellbeing to be served,” Gladnick said.

Gladnick said he and other coaches across the county and state have been pushed into action as, after 10 months, he believes that kids have been “failed miserably” by the state’s leadership: “Our governor has a responsibility to put our kids over everyone else.”

La Costa Canyon athletes protest to play.

Providing an update at the Jan. 14 San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller said there will likely be no athletic competition until the stay-at-home order is lifted for the Southern California region.

“The only sports with a path forward are cross country, swimming and diving with a start date of Feb. 1,” Miller said, according to the latest timeline released by the CIF San Diego Section on Jan. 13.

Under the California Department of Public Health guidance, sports are grouped by colored risk tiers, categorized by indoor or outdoor and low, moderate or high contact. According to the CIF timeline, the tier including golf, tennis and track and field could be allowed to begin play in February. The tier with baseball, girls lacrosse and softball could begin competing on March 13 if the county remains out of the stay-at-home order. Boys and girls soccer could begin on Feb. 22 if the county reaches the red tier level. Basketball, competitive cheer and wrestling, considered the highest risk, can only open if the county is in the orange tier level.

Practicing and conditioning (without competition) has been allowed by the state, and more sports teams have started practicing this month including Torrey Pines baseball.

San Diego County is part of the Southern California region and will remain in the stay-at-home order until ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15%—it is currently at 0.0%. Last week San Diego County hit a somber milestone of surpassing 2,000 COVID-19 deaths, including its youngest victim: a 19-year-old.

Young Mavs at the La Costa Canyon protest.