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Rally to reopen school sports draws crowd at Sunrise Mall


Demonstrators hold signs in support of reopening youth sports during a Jan. 29 rally outside Sunrise Mall. Similar events were also hosted the same day across the state. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
More than 100 people gathered at Sunrise Mall on Friday in support of the “Let Them Play” movement, a grassroots effort to reopen California youth sports.

The Jan. 29 event was organized by local coaches, community leaders, and Orangevale Live as part of a statewide effort to bring attention to what organizers claim are negative effects of shutting down youth sports.

Coach Jeff Pitnikoff told The Sentinel in an interview at the event that 30 other communities across California held similar rallies Friday night. Pitnikoff said organizers wanted to send a message to support youth athletes.

“Youth sports is critical to mental health,” Pitnikoff said. “It’s critical to so many aspects of life. Youth sports is the only sector in the state of California that has not been given a chance to open safely since March 2020.”

Sacramento County Board of Supervisor’s Chairwoman Sue Frost spoke at the rally, saying the unintended consequences of the shut down have hurt local communities. Frost said it was reasonable to close down last March, but believes its time to reopen more quickly.

“Since that time, we’ve learned a lot about COVID and we’ve also learned a lot about the unintended consequences to the lockdown policy,” Frost said. “And what we know and what the data is beginning to show is that the unintended consequences of the lockdown could be more deadly than the COVID itself.”

Citrus Heights City Councilman Bret Daniels also attended the event and said he’d like to see Citrus Heights schools reopen.

“Fully open, absolutely,” Daniels told The Sentinel. “Science is telling us there is no reason not to have kids back in school.”

Daniels acknowledged the possibility of transmitting the virus through team sports, but he said the benefits of playing sports outweigh the risks.

“I’m not trying to minimize it; this is a real thing,” Daniels said. “But again, I think that in the big picture that the trade off is we are doing more harm by keeping kids out of school.”

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley addressed what he sees as a lack of transparency in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision-making process regarding COVID-19.

“In English class when you write a paper, you’re told to cite your work, to cite your data, put in footnotes, justify the claims you’ve been making,” Kiley said. “Somehow that lesson seems to have been lost on the people with the most power in our state government right now.”

Kiley added the Let Them Play movement also means “let them learn, let them grow, and let them live.”

The crowd also heard from student athletes, some of whom said they lost college opportunities. Bella Vista High School senior Zelby Rader said playing volleyball was her motivation to apply for Oregon State University. Rader said she lost the opportunity to play for Oregon State because of the shutdown, saying her life “went downhill.”

Another student athlete recounted a friend who he said committed suicide after the shutdown began.

The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges the benefits of returning to sports in a COVID-19 Interim Guidance paper published online. The paper says youth sports benefit student’s physical and psychological health, but also cautions policy makers to consider the risk of transmitting the disease to the greater community before reopening events.

“Because prolonged, close contact with a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 is the main driver of transmission, the sport (number of players, spacing, and frequency and duration of contact) and setting (indoor versus outdoor, size and ventilation of facility) will likely influence risk of infection. Although it is not likely the main form of transmission, it is possible for SARS-CoV-2 to be transmitted on surfaces; therefore, sports with shared equipment, facilities, or common surfaces may pose additional risk,” the paper reads.

A December report by CBS13 said 77 cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Santa Clara County were traced back to Courtside Basketball Center in Rocklin. The basketball center participated in a tournament Nov. 7-8, leading to the outbreak, according to reports.

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