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At rally, a call for return of high school and youth sports

This story has been updated with additional quotes.

REGION — Coaches, parents, athletes and San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond are calling for the state to allow youth and high school sports to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Let Them Play CA group, consisting of at least two dozen, rallied at Torrey Pines High School on Jan. 15 in an effort to persuade Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and others to open up the fields to competition. Currently, athletes are allowed to practice, but no games or seasons are allowed, according to Scripps Ranch football coach Marlon Gardinera.

A liver transplant recipient and considered high risk, Gardinera said it is critical to get kids back to outdoor sports as a way to improve mental health, showcase skills to college recruiters and rediscover interests in academics and extracurricular activities.

“I’m a parent and I don’t need any politician telling me what’s in the best interest of my sons,” Gardinera said. “In my role as coach, I do understand the anxiety and depression. I get calls from parents asking for additional activities to get the kids away from screens and isolation.”

Additionally, Gardinera said he feels outdoor sports are safe for him and his kids. If he didn’t feel it was safe, he said there would be “no way” he would support this movement.

Desmond, and several others including former Oceanside High School football coach John Carroll, said state and county leaders are not following the “science” and “data” when it comes to outdoor activities. They also noted other states have successfully reopened their fields with no significant evidence of widespread outbreaks.

Mandela Tobin, a senior defensive lineman for Westview High School who has committed to play football at Duke University, said it is also important for his peers’ ability to socialize and take advantage of scholarship opportunities.

Let Them Play CA started two weeks ago as a group on Facebook by Mission Hills High School parent Brad Hensley and his wife. The movement has quickly spread to include more than 33,000 members across the state; 140 rallies were planned for Jan. 15 at schools and school district offices.

A number of former professional athletes from California have also called on the state to allow youth sports to return. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines on Jan. 14 by calling out Newsom and the state’s politicians for not letting kids play while also not following COVID-19 guidelines themselves.

Hensley said a number of former pro athletes have reached out, voiced support and posted to his group. They include former Major League Baseball player David Wells, former Packers wide receiver James Jones, NFL player Geoff Swaim and NHL great Jeremy Roenick.

“We were just so tired and frustrated,” Hensley said. “We’ve been too patient in a system that has failed our kids. No one is standing up for our kids.”

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