Concerned high school parents and student-athletes convened outside the Fresno County Department of Health Friday afternoon, hoping to have their voices heard as part of the statewide “Let Them Play CA” movement.
Rallies were held at 4 p.m. today at 138 different locations across California, with the goal of generating support from state health and government officials to allow high school athletics to be played. California is one of seven states that hasn’t allowed high schoolers to take the field of play in the 2020-21 school year.
Masks and social distancing were encouraged in multiple flyers promoting the Downtown Fresno rally, and the vast majority of people who attended the rally wore masks. Schools were not involved in planning or sharing news of the rally; parents, student-athletes, and the Fresno and Clovis high school sports community put the event together and shared its details through social media.
The rally was originally supposed to take place outside the Clovis Unified School District office, but a location change was made Wednesday for the Fresno County Department of Health. Bullard High School moved their rally to the same location as well.
One of the issues raised at the rally was the lack of a start date for high school football. California is one of six states that does not have a confirmed start date for football; by comparison, 34 states have already played their season.
Mandy Bracha attended the rally Friday with her son’s senior year of football in mind.
“They look forward to this year their entire lives and being the ‘big man on campus’ and wanting to shine out on the football field,” Bracha said. “It’s taking a toll on everyone.”
Tim Hulse also attended the rally, as the father of a Buchanan High volleyball player.
“It’s great to see a lot of other parents, other schools, other districts even here at the Department of Health, to let them see we are united in wanting kids to return to sports,” Hulse said.
High school sports were halted back on March 13, 2020 due to COVID-19, cutting short the seasons for baseball, softball, track and field and boys volleyball among other spring sports.
The CIF released a tentative schedule on July 20 of last year, laying out a schedule with water polo, volleyball and cross country starting Dec. 28, and football kicking off Jan. 7, 2021.
On November 16, the CIF announced high school sporting events would not be sanctioned until new youth sports guidelines were released, this coming after California Governor Gavin Newsom said the release of such guidelines would be postponed.
The guidelines were released on Dec. 14, establishing a system where colored tiers determined which sports could be played. Football, basketball, soccer and volleyball were listed by the guidance as playable under the orange tier, a level Fresno County has never reached since California’s tier system was first introduced.
With the football season in peril, Sal Mandal attended Friday’s rally in support of his son Jayden, who plays both football and baseball at Buchanan.
“There’s obviously other states that have been playing, and it’s hard for our kids to see that,” Mandal said. “From a parent’s standpoint, there’s so many life lessons that come from playing sports and I just want to help get these kids back on the field.”
The rally came a day after the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community released data on high school football workouts and COVID-19, accumulated from 251 schools. The coaches’ study found that over an eight month span, less than 3 percent of participating athletes reported COVID-19 cases (522 out of 19,630), with nine cases being a direct result of on-campus workouts.
“The data below confirms that following proper protocols, California coaches and athletes have successfully worked out and are safe on campus,” said the coaches’ study.
Mandal pointed to the study as hope that a football season could be played safely.
“Hopefully, [the study] gets to the right people and they can see that and make an educated decision off that,” Mandal said.
A few chants of “Let Them Play” ripped through the crowd Friday, as rallygoers remained peaceful yet firm in their convictions.
“We just wanted a peaceful rally here to show that we understand [COVID] is a serious condition and there’s a lot of people out there that have been sick,” Mandal said, “but there is also these kids’ mental health… we want to make sure we support them as well.”