Families Speaks Out Against Ban on Youth Sports During COVID-19 and the True Impact on Their Kids
By Corey Costelloe
In addition to bi-monthly columns in The Loop, exclusive online content available at CostelloeMedia.com
Normally this above scene from 2019 would be recreated all over California, but statewide reaction to COVID-19 has delayed the high school football season along with other youth sports for all ages.
‘Xs and Arrows,’ the popular sports column by Corey Costelloe will be exclusively published by The Loop newspaper in Tehachapi, keeping the local column alive after editorial decisions forced a change in scenery for the content.
The Loop is published every-other week and has the largest distribution network among any local publication in all of Eastern Kern County serving the communities of Tehachapi, California City, Mojave, Keene, Rosamond, Edwards Air Force Base and even Los Angeles County in Lancaster. Over 200 locations receive The Loop Newspaper twice a month along with special publications and the annual ‘Experience Tehachapi Magazine’ also produced by Hilltop Publishers.
The Loop is a family-owned newspaper led by Claudia White and her daughter Alysia Bailey and has been in Tehachapi for nearly 20 years. ‘Xs and Arrows’ will bring long-absent sports content to the publication while contributing to the goal of providing community-serving journalism to the readers.
In addition to the contributions to The Loop. www.CostelloeMedia.com will add exclusive content, opinions and eventually coverage of local sports on a regular basis. This will allow for more-frequent content and a free platform to cover the issues in a more-timely manner. Look for ‘Xtra Arrows’ online, a supplement feature customized for the internet fanbase.
Laura Hulon leaves her home in Huntington Beach, Calif., tasked with taking her daughter Ella and son Hunter to another “protest” outside the city limits; these protests look similar to what once resembled club soccer practices, but in 2020 one of these activities is allowed and it isn’t the latter. COVID-19 restrictions by state and local governments have made that point abundantly clear, parents are conforming by carefully labeling their activities accordingly.
Meanwhile several hundred miles away in Arizona’s Mohave Valley with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees on shabby baseball diamonds, J.D. Davis of Bakersfield, Calif. and his 14-year-old son Austin are playing in a 14U travel baseball tournament, as close to home as humanly possible, just a mere 277 miles from the California’s Central Valley. Just over the California-Arizona border where one state is slightly more realistic with coronavirus restrictions than the other. The benches in the dugout have been removed to encourage social distancing, adding even more irony to an unfortunate reality that parents with active kids face in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In Tehachapi, Calif., Eric Parker, a former collegiate wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield has a pair of boys ages seven and four, both have missed either their spring and summer wrestling seasons as well as T-Ball and coach pitch baseball. Normally at this time of the year the Parker’s would be preparing for the winter folk-style wrestling season, now Eric has taken to teaching his kids golf, as it is one of the few sports “allowed” under California regulations; he even had to purchase a left-handed clubs for his four-year old while his oldest son Liam is learning on a hand-me-down set from his older cousins.
“The boys miss their friends they have on the wrestling team,” Parker said. “But they are young and resilient.”
In the same town, Jeremiah Jackson juggles his own employment with now having kids both distance learning and not being involved in their normal activities. His 13-year-old son Devin is usually busy with AAU basketball and youth football. Both those teams are not together in 2020, leaving Devin and his teammates on their own as club practices dwindled and have since resorted to informal meetings at the local park just for the chance to throw the ball around.
The youth are historically resilient, but each of these parents and several others within their expanded network understand that resiliency has its limitations. The COVID-10 pandemic, more appropriately the response to the pandemic and the statewide restrictions on school and organized sports, have placed these once busy families into unfamiliar territory. Not only having to explain current events to their kids, but accept risk to continue to find a way to physically and financially make their activities a reality at a time where the State of California has limited most all youth sports to simple conditioning drills and small-group exercises.
Meanwhile the television is full of protests and rallies containing far more people than a youth baseball game or club soccer match, but that activity continues to be widely acceptable; while healthy activities for kids are simply ignored as parents try to limit the damage this government-mandated lockout might inflict.
Protests and Play Dates
Hulon is juggling two club soccer enrollments, this comes at a time when the club coaches are essentially doing their job for free, since there is not a guarantee of a season anytime soon, and accepting money means expenses like tournaments, it also means potentially refunding money should a season not occur, so club finances are put on hold. She may eventually be paying for both kids on a club since the local AYSO league has been cancelled.
While one day it is a “protest” for young Hunter, the day he’s off to a “play date” the proper term used for his flag football team practice at another Southern California Park. The kids show up and don’t make contact or wear their jerseys, that would make it an “organized event” which is a no-no. Instead, it’s just a bunch of kids playing flag football, meanwhile their normal coach won’t participate so one of the parents have stepped up, come to find out he used to play professional football, so this team/not-team is in good hands.
This is just a few of the challenges parents like Hulon face as they try to provide their kids some sort of mental balance and normal activity.
“For us it isn’t even about the athletic portion of it. It’s for their mental well-being more than anything,” she said. “You can’t keep these kids in the house all the time. My children have a lot of energy and take pride in their sports. I have reached out to every coach we have and said plain and simple, I’ll find you a field, I’ll support the team and even take the responsibility and reach out to parents directly to invite them to come and play. I have been met with some very-grateful coaches.”
On The Road Again
While summer vacations, trips and getaways were mostly cancelled due to COVID-19, the Davis family used that money to fund their newfound traveling habits, not only to the State of Arizona, but Utah as well where they have found regular games with another travel baseball team. This has meant a whole new set of challenges for this baseball-hungry tribe.
At first it was good financially because we were saving so much money not traveling (for vacation) but then it became a question every day of ‘dad when are we gonna play again?’,” J.D. said. “I’ve had to take more vacation days at work so we can travel. I am now spending more than I ever have just to give them some kind of normalcy in their lives.”
“All they wanna do is go back to school and play sports it’s a terrible time for them.”
J.D. also said his son Austin normally would be starting Frosh/Soph football this month, but that season has tentatively been pushed back to January 2021, another delay or potential cancelation in a hectic year. Davis has hired a personal trainer to keep his son in shape and ready for the season, another unexpected expense but one Davis feels is necessary for the well-being of his kids.
Normalcy vs. Risk
With cases of COVID-19 declining in California, restrictions have been slow to be lifted. The novel coronavirus is still out there infecting people, but the severity seems to be declining as seen with the State’s intensive care unit patients and availability of ventilators. According to the California Department of Public Health, the infection rate among kids (0-17) is the lowest of all age groups, representing just over 75,000 in that demographic as of September 9th.
With parents attempting to play the balancing game between physical and mental health, they have had to take time to speak to their kids about both COVID-19 and the risks involved in sports and their regular lives. For the Davis’, the trips out of state have been the most educational in that regard.
“I’ve had small conversations with them, but they like myself see people in other states not wearing mask or not being worried about it and just living life,” J.D. said. “I am willing to risk it because I believe if they are held indoors all the time their immune system will be worse, and they will become sicker.”
“I believe losing 18 months of competition is a bigger risk. The Covid rate for kids is not very high at all, but these kids missing out on physical activity and socialization is hell on their mental status.”
Jackson is seeing the impact on his 13-year-old more than anything, usually an athlete that excels in football and basketball, his “virtual” world has expanded, leaving his father concerned about growth and development during key adolescent years.
“My teenage son who is usually involved on a daily basis in sports has resorted to PS4 and watching social media videos instead of playing sports that he loves and excels at. He has now lost an entire season of growth and development to prepare him for his high school years and possibly collegiate athletics as well,” Jackson said. “He has suffered tremendously as he would have normally been interacting with friends in person developing relationships, friendships, comradery that comes from playing a sport together. As a teenager in modern society he is missing out on valuable skills that sports brings that teach about respect, honor, and sportsmanship.”
“Talking into his headphones and interacting with his friends online while playing Fortnite has become his “new normal” and it is very sad to see.”
The importance of those skills is not necessarily limited to the teenagers either. Jackson also has a four-year-old son who missed out on a T-Ball season and the lack of activities is wearing on the entire family.
“While he is just beginning to play sports, he is still missing out on the socialization with other kids his age. We as parents see that he desperately needs these interactions because he is bored at home, which in turn can drive parents a little crazy sometimes. We have always been involved in a sport at all times of the year and not being allowed to play them is cheating our children out of making awesome memories and is truly robbing them of the childhood that we have worked so hard for them to enjoy,” Jackson said.
Jackson says he has done his research on COVID-19 and believes the 99% survival rate is something he is willing to risk. After talking with his kids, the entire family is willing to sign waivers as part of the sign-up process to get his kids back together with their teammates and competing again. Something that is a challenge now that “gaming” has taken over the routine of his teenage son, creating another obstacle for returning to normal.
The Path Forward
Limiting many of these parents, especially those in Kern County is the arbitrary shift in reopening California from the state mandates handed down by Governor Gavin Newsom who has changed course three times on reopening the State. Recently it was noted that Kern County, which currently sits in the most restrictive tier of the new color-coded map to recovery, does qualify to move into the next phase of reopening with their low positivity rate. However, since not enough residents are willingly being tested for COVID-19, the State of California is arbitrarily inflating their positivity numbers. Without science, without data and again moving the goal posts. Since the start of COVID-19 Newsom has changed tunes dramatically, from “Flatten the Curve” to “Slow the Spread” to focusing on intensive care unit bed capacity, ventilators, and hospital beds. Then it shifted towards testing capacity for counties which evolved into a positivity rate metric. Then just as parents appear to have hope for some sort of return to life, the Governor changes the game again and adds inflated numbers because healthy residents aren’t testing enough according to State-derived metrics.
Jackson is no expert, but unlike the governor who is calling the shots on a perceived whim, he has firsthand experience when it comes to kids and germs.
“As a first-grade teacher I am surrounded by germs on a daily basis and know how resilient children are and how strong they are in fighting off viruses and illnesses,” he said. “Hiding them away and forcing them to social distance is taking away a huge part of not only their personal growth but their personal health. They are not being exposed to all of the bugs that are a part of daily life and I feel very strongly that they will suffer for it if or when we are freed from this isolation.”
Parker, who along with missing his kid’s competitions yearns to return to being a fan of Major League Baseball as well, recently watching his favorite team the San Diego Padres play on TV and missing the confines of Petco Park. None of California’s color-coded road map speaks to allowing fans inside professional sporting arenas or stadiums anytime soon, leaving Parker to realize the entirety of this situation.
“Overall, I have no doubt that the effects of the coronavirus shutdown protocols will have a more negative effect on all aspects of society than the effects of the coronavirus disease.”
The path forward looks murky at best, at least until either legal challenges revoke certain government powers, or Governor Newsom shifts the goalposts yet again. In the meantime, the business owners, parents, and children suffer.
“All in all, what I’m finding is unless you fight for it or come up with solutions it won’t happen,” Hulon said. “No child wants one more Zoom meeting. That doesn’t work for sports. Sorry, not sorry.”
Some names of those interviewed in this story have been changed to protect participants from punitive enforcement of state health regulations. Copyright 2020 CostelloeMedia.com
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