Cynthia Webster’s daughter would have played high school soccer this year had there not been a raging pandemic going on. She doesn’t think there’s any need for her daughter or any other kids to remain on the sidelines anymore.
Friday afternoon, Webster was one of approximately 50 people — all wearing masks, most socially distancing — who lined the sidewalk in front of Alhambra High School in Martinez as part of a “Let Them Play” rally to generate support for letting kids get back to the playing field and performance room. That includes everything from high-profile high school football programs to T-ball baseball teams, and artistic pursuits like dance and everything in between to practice, play and perform.
“I’m here to support getting these young kids back on campus, just like in other states, safely,” Webster said as she waved a sign that said “Kids Need Sports.” Lots of passing cars offered horn honks in support.
“If we can all be in Costco or Target, I think we can successfully watch a sports event, inside or out.”
The gathering in front of Alhambra High was one of at least 130 rallies scheduled at 4 p.m. Friday up and down California, according to Bradley Hensley, who with his wife started the “Let Them Play CA” effort less than two weeks ago.
The end game, according to Hensley, is to convince state officials — ultimately, Gov. Gavin Newsom — to loosen COVID-19 restrictions to allow kids to get back to playing. He said he and his group has proof that school-age kids can do it safely.
“We have the data, we have the science,” said Hensley, who lives in Carlsbad north of San Diego. “The current state tier system does not have the data we’ve seen; Our data shows that we can do this safely.”
In the Bay Area, rallies were also planned for Acalanes High in Lafayette, Amador Valley High and Foothill High in Pleasanton, Branham High and Pioneer High in San Jose, Liberty High in Brentwood, California High in San Ramon’ Campolindo High in Moraga, College Park High in Pleasant Hill, De La Salle High in Concord, Dougherty Valley High in San Ramon, Dublin High in Dublin, Half Moon Bay High, Granada and Livermore High in Livermore, Miramonte High School in Orinda and Wilcox High in Santa Clara.
Hensley said “safety” for kids isn’t only about steering clear of COVID-19.
“We saw the negative impacts (not playing) is having on our youth — depression, obesity, even suicide,” he said. “We want to bring youth sports back in a positive way.”
In a matter of 11 days, he said, more than 32,000 people have joined the Let Them Play CA Facebook page. There isn’t much formal organization to it, he said, other than monitoring the discussion on the Facebook page.
“It’s all been word of mouth,” said Hensley.
Not everyone welcomed Friday’s Martinez rally. Bay Area health officials have not only warned against kids playing team sports, but against their parents gathering to watch them.
And the Alhambra rally was one subject mentioned in a Thursday newsletter from Martinez Unified School District Superintendent Julie Synyard to district families.
“We are asking our students and families to refrain from coming to the Alhambra High School campus as we are under a stay-at-home order,” Synyard said. “We absolutely look forward to the return of our students and our student athletes, but we do not want to contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
“We understand the frustration but our primary objective is to keep our students and community healthy and safe,” the letter continued.
Both Webster and Brandon Collins said parents on the sidelines can socially distance and otherwise minimize the coronavirus transmission risk. Collins was standing alongside Alhambra Avenue Friday, too, with his three sons, ages 13, 11 and 7. Between the three of them, their dad said, they play Little League baseball, CYO basketball and swim on a team.
He wants his kids on the field, in the gym and in the pool. “Right now, they don’t have a whole lot to focus on.
“The decisions being made right now are pretty one-sided,” Collins said. “I think we should be able to assess our own risk, what we have tolerance for.”