Viewpoint: What’s happening with youth sports in San Mateo County?

by Kevin Wolf on October 6, 2020

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

6 Comments

Charles October 06, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Utter Covid Non-Sense:

There are thousands and thousands of data points on outdoor soccer being safe. The counties need to open-up asap, and allow teams to return to play. While our kids in California suffer, kids in other states are safely back out playing. It is time enough to end the nonsense.

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Mark Flynn October 07, 2020 at 6:32 am

Kevin-very well said. Many states have adopted COVID protocol measures to allow youth sports and has been a terrific boost for the parents and kids. For example, Massachusetts has many leagues running youth sports with little or no COVID related issues. They have players, coaches, parents and refs wear masks; allow 1 parent attend per game; no team can come on the field until the prior team has left the field following their game; and parents social distance during game–can’t sit in stands as that would require sanitation after each game. It works!

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David Klein October 07, 2020 at 1:38 pm

Kevin. Thanks for your thoughtful article.

The answer to your questions regarding if youth sports providers can take similar precautions to restaurants, schools, etc. is 100% YES!

As the Executive Director of Legends Baseball, a non-profit located in Menlo Park, I am proud to say we have successfully been running programming for almost 5 months now. We have not had a single Covid case transmitted at our camp and/or academy program.

To my knowledge San Mateo County doesnt have clearly outlined youth sports regulations, so we actually follow Santa Clara Guidelines – SEE LINK https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/mandatory-directives-programs-serving-children-or-youth.aspx

We screen our families, take temperatures everyday, ask detailed questions at field entry, wear masks, clean our equipment, stick to 12 player pods, no switching between pods, etc… We do it all. We are 6 weeks into our Fall Academy program. ZERO cases.

For games we play 4 vs 4 vs 4 intrapod games. Kids get colored wristbands and compete like a real game within the pod. All the families are physically distanced in outfield under tents with coolers. We have announcers, music, umpires… it’s an absolute blast and feels just like a real game. Many kids are saying it is more fun than real baseball! It takes creativity and a lot of planning and communication, but it can be done!

We worked with a number of local pediatricians who work on Covid and they have articulated outdoor transmission of the virus is VERY rare, especially among kids. Studies like this back this up… https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.04.20188417v2

Unfortunately Menlo Park and other cities are not renting facilities to programs who allow for shared surfaces. I was told, “the kids cannot play catch with one another”. They can only throw a ball into a net and retrieve it themselves. Basically glorified fetch! 😉

This guideline does not seem to be rooted in science. We know that Covid is a respiratory disease and is mainly spread through micro air droplets. I would argue that a kid passing a soccer ball to another kid would result in virtually no additional cases. Yes, they may get closer to one another because they are passing the ball… that is why they wear masks.

For a very slightly reduced increase in risk, this guideline is making a dramatic negative impact on youth mental health and children’s ability to play outside and just be kids again.

To hear from some of the parents about our the experiences we are creating for kids/families in the Menlo Park and to learn about the safety measures we are taking, here are some testimonials: https://www.yelp.com/biz/menlo-park-legends-menlo-park

Like you said if we are putting in guidelines to allow restaurants, salons, schools, stores to open, we also need to get sports programs opened so our kids can play in a safe way. There’s nothing more important than our kids. If our kids our happy everyone then the entire household is happy!

Sending love and good health your way!

-David Klein
david@menloparklegends.com

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Joe Rousseau October 07, 2020 at 3:02 pm

It is very possible to resume competition and our state governor and California public health are choosing to ignore all possibilities. We are actually one of the only states to not have allowed competition to resume. Nevada and Washington just joined 45 other states and allowed competition to resume. No masks needed for the players. As long as there are precautions taken before play such as temperature check, Covid tracing questions, etc. As mentioned in other comments the risk of transmission among kids outdoors during a game is very very unlikely. I can speak for soccer because I am a soccer coach and I do not believe the masks are needed during a game. The amount of time your are close to an opponent are half seconds. I believe it has been a bigger mental health risk to not allow the kids to play their sports competitively. Especially when all the other states are resuming competition with no problems. When will California finally follow along!?

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Anders Perez October 09, 2020 at 2:42 pm

Kevin
Same here. I am the Executive Director for Juventus Academy Silicon Valley. https://www.juventus-sc.org/

We are a non-profit youth soccer club in Redwood City. We have been holding practices for our players since July under strict protocols. We are blessed to have been able keep our kids safe through this time. We even created a protocol for players to follow that includes temperature checks, sanitizer stations, etc… https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RCRLT4L6_GmuQPW_dviDowOSwGXkT3fLbahXgtZ49s8/edit#heading=h.fsq6vyoa7oks
whats frustrating is seeing random adults being allowed to play full contact sports while our players cannot do the same while sometimes being side by side on the field. Would be nice for California to update their youth sports guidelines and give more direction

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K.C. Watson October 10, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Kevin and all –

100% in agreement with you on this matter. Here’s the latest from the State of Washington and their relaxing of youth game play rules this week:

“Counties with moderate COVID-19 activity, which is between 25 and 75 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, can resume league games for low- and moderate-risk activities, which includes softball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, gymnastics and bowling.”

San Mateo County is currently at 47 per 100K. County and State officials need to pay attention to this large segment of our youth.

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