Viewpoint: What’s happening with youth sports in San Mateo County?
As a parent of three kids who play a variety of parks/rec and club sports, my weekdays and weekends have been pretty full the past few years. My wife and I always seem to be driving our kids to or from a practice or game, sometimes lamenting the time spent in traffic or family dinners missed, but more often than not enjoying the fact that our kids are staying active and social, and not home playing video games or watching YouTube.
Then the pandemic hit and boy, do we miss those drives/practices/games now!
Since early March, my kids, like every other kid in San Mateo County, have not been permitted by the County (which is following State guidelines) to play competitive team sports due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The guidelines stipulate no games due to the use of shared sports equipment and inability to maintain six feet of distance.
As a concerned parent/member of the community, I get it; we need to be vigilant because the risk of transmitting coronavirus remains high. I absolutely worry that a child on one team could spread the disease to a child on another team, or that a coach could spread it to a child or vice versa, and a coach or child could bring the virus back to an older parent, grandparent or caretaker. These issues shouldn’t be taken lightly.
But are we sure there isn’t a way to get kids playing again while being responsible community members? Are we sure there should be a blanket policy that prohibits any sport in which kids share equipment or get within six feet of one another?
Living in San Mateo County, we know the weather through at least October is likely to be pretty good. Couldn’t our kids play games like baseball, lacrosse, basketball and soccer outside?
Could sports adopt what schools and restaurants are doing to stay safe?
Some of our kids are starting to go back to school this month. They’re required to wear masks the entire time they’re on campus. Couldn’t we require our kids to play games while wearing masks, too? It may not be comfortable, but at this point I think most of us have gotten used to wearing masks most of the time.
We go to restaurants and retail stores and have our temperatures taken before going in. Every restaurant and store has sanitizer at the checkout. Couldn’t we do both (temperature checks and sanitizer) before games?
My wife and I have to complete a form everyday indicating our son doesn’t have a variety of symptoms before he can attend school. Couldn’t we do that for youth sports?
Eat at any restaurant in the County and you’ll find waiters wiping down tables and chairs as guests turn over. Couldn’t we do that with baseballs, lacrosse balls, soccer balls, etc. during games?
The most challenging issue is how to maintain six feet of distance while playing games. That’s not easy. Even in baseball, the catcher and batter get pretty close, and baserunners get close to fielders occasionally. Lacrosse players get close too, although most players wear helmets that at least partially cover their faces.
There’s risk in playing these sports without distancing, no doubt. But if we’re doing all the aforementioned things, and playing outside, are we sure the risk of transmitting the disease is still high? What does the data tell us? I asked the San Mateo County Health Department and they told me they don’t have this data. I doubt the State has it either.
This issue affects not only our kids and parents but hundreds of coaches and small businesses in the area, too. And it disproportionately affects lower income families who do not have the money to send their kids out of state to play games.
Where’s the data and guidance about when it’s safe to resume sports?
So, why aren’t we talking about this issue more? What’s holding up the State/County from providing clear guidance on the issue of when it’s safe to resume youth sports games? What data is being used to inform this issue? Who’s in charge of making these decisions? And when are we likely to get an update and plan of action?
I’m as concerned about the issue of transmitting COVID-19 as anyone. I care deeply about our community and think we should do everything reasonable to keep each other safe. I’m concerned the issue of youth sports games is too far down on the list of priorities for our State/County officials/health leaders to take notice. And the small group cohort practices that the State/County currently allow are nice, but without the incentive of playing games, our kids will eventually lose interest in going to practice.
I think this is a big mistake. Our kids need to play. They need the healthy competition that comes with games. And parents/coaches need it, too. If you agree, I hope you will sign and share this petition to bring back youth sports games. Let the kids play!
Author Kevin Wolf is a 15 year resident of Menlo Park with three children ages 14, 12 and 5. He runs a local content and PR company, TGPR.
InMenlo file photo (c) 2014