A Facebook group comprised of supporters of youth sports are planning rallies up and down the state Friday — including a pair in San Mateo — to bring attention to the fact youth sports have been put on hold for nearly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Golden State HS Football Coaches Community is taking a more pragmatic approach. The group was organized by Serra head football coach Patrick Walsh, who was looking for an outlet for the questions and concerns he had about the future of high school football in California.
He said Colorado’s decision to move the football season back to its original placement on the fall schedule played a role in his forming the GSHSFCC.
“I felt like, ‘Maybe we could do something like (Colorado) did,’” Walsh said. “But we didn’t have a venue or organization to go through (to ask those questions), so I felt kind of helpless.”
Walsh has now brought together nearly 600 coaches from throughout the state with the hope of presenting to city, county and state officials the steps to be taken to safely return youth sports to the field. While Walsh’s group is nominally a football coaches group, it is starting to expand to other coaches in other sports.
Walsh said discussions with colleagues who are members of the Texas High School Coaches Association led him to believe that the best way for governments to make decisions was for high school sports experts — in this case, coaches — to advocate for high school athletics.
Walsh said his group started gathering data from not only around the country but from the teams and schools involved with the group. Data about the number of practices, workouts and games, compared with the occurrence of COVID-19 cases.
Not everything was perfect. Walsh’s data indicates that 95% of football games in the state of Texas were played this season. He has anecdotal evidence from colleagues around the country who said they had a game or two canceled but, for the most part, came through unscathed.
Walsh wants to take all the data the group has compiled and present it to those in charge of green-lighting youth sports in California.
“Is a water polo match a super-spreader event? The data we’re collecting says no. If that’s the case, then perhaps that data should be seen at the highest levels of our cities, our counties and ultimately, our state,” Walsh said. “All we want is a chance to present the data and prove youth sports is not a super-spreader event.”
Mike Parodi, head football coach at Hillsdale, is a member of the GSHSFCC and he believes high school coaches and athletic directors need a way to have their voices heard. Like Walsh, Parodi believes it is those who are working day to day with athletes who should have firsthand knowledge about the situation.
“What [Walsh] is doing is a positive step. It’s bringing us (coaches) together so we can all get our voices heard. Get our opinions gathered, instead of working in little factions. Coming together with a big plan to make something happen,” Parodi said. “The loudest voice usually is the one that gets heard, right or wrong. We (coaches) want the loudest voice.”
Parodi said one of the biggest challenges is getting authorities to change the way they think. Instead of always thinking about worst-case scenarios, how about a scenario where it actually works?
“We see all the ways it can’t work. We need to find a way to make it work,” Parodi said. “I just don’t know what it is yet.”
Critics may say now is not the time to be pushing for the return of youth sports. The COVID-19 virus is raging unchecked in the state and hospitals are pushed to their capacity. Meanwhile, professional sports — the NBA and English soccer’s Premier League — are contemplating postponing the season for a week or two as a way to tamp down the growing spread of infections.
Walsh realizes that now is not the best time to be thinking about competing, but it’s never to early to have plans in place when numbers allow the return of youth sports.
“Would we condone starting right now? No. Probably not,” Walsh said. “We’re taking a logical approach to this. We’re certainly hopeful that the (infection) numbers go down for many reasons. For obvious reasons.”
Parodi’s hope is that the information presented to officials will help them make appropriate decisions when conditions allow those decisions to be made.
“We’re coming from a place where we need to keep pushing, to do our due diligence, so when we have the opportunity (to get back on the field), we can take advantage of it,” Parodi said.
The bottom line is hundred of coaches, who have been working with school district and county health officials throughout this pandemic, want a chance to prove that youth sports — and all the physical and mental benefits associated with them — can be done safely.
“All or nothing is not right. Not having the choice or opportunity is not right,” Walsh said. “Every single guy I’ve talked to (from out of state) said the same thing: ‘We’re so happy to be given the chance (to play a season), but we are glad it’s over.’
“We would love to be given that chance.”