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Santa Clara County OKs youth sports as area coach says teen athletes are dropping out, joining gangs

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
By Laila Weir - Published on January 29, 2021.

The Santa Clara County Health Department has walked back restrictions that would have severely limited youth athletics in the county, as a movement gains traction in Sacramento advocating for youth sports which was started by a San Mateo coach.

The county had informed school superintendents on Tuesday about strict new rules on youth sports, KPIX 5 reports. These included bans on games and travel outside the county, and mandated that all players would have to remain six feet apart and that kids could only play in “stable groups” that would remain 25 feet apart from other groups at all times.

The announcement sparked a public outcry and the county changed course as of Wednesday. “The County updated and consolidated its directives to make clear that (1) competitions between teams is allowed in Santa Clara County to the same degree as allowed by the State and (2) youth sports teams and other outdoor youth activities are not limited to 16-member cohorts,” officials told KPIX 5.

Meanwhile, a coaches’ group organized by a San Mateo high school football coach to advocate for youth sports in California has gotten increased attention in Sacramento. Two members of the state Assembly announced Wednesday that they have authored a resolution for youth sports to resume in California, KGTV reports.

The coaches’ group wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom this week urging the governor to allow youth sports in the state.

The coaches' letter argues that data from other states shows how to resume youth sports in a COVID-safe way. It also makes the case that the ban on youth sports is worsening what many are calling a mental health crisis among children, with the harm falling especially heavily on children from lower-income families.

“The most alarming outcome from your ban on youth sports is its devastating impact in our California inner cities,” states the letter from the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community, the group organized by Serra High School football coach Patrick Walsh. “Inner city coaches report a sharp rise in gang membership, drug and alcohol use, school dropouts, and incarceration.”

In a video posted on social media, Walsh gave more specifics. He said that the Golden State group has been gathering data from California high school football coaches on mental health indicators for their athletes. Of 105 high school football programs that have given data, Walsh said the schools reported that 253 of their football players have dropped out of school, 64 have been incarcerated, 85 have joined gangs and 38 have become fathers.

“The brunt of the cost is being held on the backs of the kids of California,” Walsh told the Mercury News earlier this month.

Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), a lawmaker who’s vocally opposed California’s lockdowns, and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) authored the “Let Them Play” resolution on youth sports.

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