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'Let Them Play' | Growing movement calls for return to California youth sports

“Life basically just stopped for me,” 15-year-old Austin Nicodemus said. “And so that was pretty heartbreaking.”

CARMICHAEL, Calif. — Del Campo High School Sophomore Austin Nicodemus was devastated when he learned he would not be able to play baseball because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Youth sports, along with schools and business operations across the state were ordered to close in March 2020 following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in California.

The 15-year-old has played baseball for two-thirds of his life with his father, Brett Nicodemus, 52, by his side as coach and mentor.

“Life basically just stopped for me,” the younger Nicodemus said. “And so that was pretty heartbreaking.”

That’s why they’re joining hundreds who rallied in Citrus Heights, Friday, calling on government leaders to allow youth sports to resume.

“We just need to get the kids back doing what they love to do,” the elder Nicodemus said.

They joined in solidarity with others across the state. The group comprised of high school coaches, parents, and student-athletes want youth sports to return, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“Let Them Play” has been the rallying cry of this group, which has bipartisan support from some California lawmakers. The group is citing the pandemic impact on mental and physical health on youth. They’ve also pointed out how the loss of sports could adversely impact a student-athletes ability to get into college or earn scholarships.

Youth sports have resumed in other states outside California, most professional sports have resumed without spectators.

The “Let Them Play” resolution is being co-authored by 28 lawmakers across the state, according to Assemblymember James Gallagher (R - Yuba City).

“This is a bi-partisan effort to bring back our youth sports,” Gallagher said. “This is for our kids. We need to get them off the bench and back onto the field."

Assemblymember Kevin Kiley says, because of the negative impacts on mental health and the low transmission rates, structured sports are safer than others. He also says families are already traveling out of state for competitions.

“In terms of the health and well-being of our kids, in terms of what the science says, in terms of what the people of our state are asking for, and in terms of what’s in the best interest of public health, both from the perspective of mental health and physical well-being and the perspective of the virus, all of this counsels in favor of a return to high school athletics,” Kiley said.

Kiley co-authored the resolution.

Outdoor low contact youth and adult sports like archery, biking, and golf are allowed to resume across the state. Indoor moderate and high contact sports like basketball, wrestling, and cheerleading may only resume on a county-by-county basis when the county has a minimal rate of coronavirus spread.

While many medical experts have shown support for young people returning to school, some question whether or not sports should be allowed to continue at this point in the pandemic.

Dr. Ravinder Khaira of Sacramento said he has witnessed evidence of skyrocketing disorders among youth like depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.

“I’ve seen a number of kids that are coming in with suicidal ideation as young as 7 years of age,” Khaira said.

Although he calls the pandemic equivalent to a “war” with the coronavirus.

“[The virus] has absolutely no care in the world in taking away those in our community that are at risk or, for that matter, that aren’t at risk,” Khaira said.

The teens and other individuals can easily become super spreaders and take it back to other family members who may be more at risk and susceptible, Khaira said. That’s why he says youth athletics should wait longer before returning. If the vaccine rollout continues on pace, it may be possible by this Summer, he said.

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