O.C. officials, Olympic athletes push for youth sports competitions to resume

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A group of Orange County officials, coaches and athletes are calling on state leaders to resume youth sports competitions immediately.

“California is one of the last states to resume youth sports games and competitions,” Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said in a news release Monday. “Students cannot access athletic college scholarships, must go out of state to compete, and are lacking access to healthy outlets and critical character development skills.”

Wagner, who has advocated for the reopening of more business sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, held a news conference Monday morning at Tustin Sports Park. He was joined by sports business leaders and Olympic athletes.

“We believe the cure is a whole lot worse than the disease right now when you look at the kids that are staying home right now that are unable to play with their friends,” Wagner said at the news conference.

Wagner, who has been a frequent critic of Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the governor has been “extraordinarily erratic in his response to Covid,” saying the state has failed to provide a “comprehensive plan.”

“The science says our kids are, thankfully, very, very resistant to this disease,” Wagner said. “They don’t get it as quickly, they don’t get it as harshly, they don’t spread it as much. We can get them back to competition, we can get them back to school.”

Under California’s coronavirus regulations, youth sports can hold practices but not games or competitions.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced in June that youth sports practices could reopen with social distancing protocols in place, the Los Angeles Times reported. The county, however, has not released a timeline for games starting again.

Mission Viejo Mayor Brian Goodell, who is also a former competitive swimmer and two-time Olympic champion, said he was grateful that swimming and diving facilities have been allowed to reopen.

However, Goodell said that “it’s time to open up for competition again.”

Jessica Hardy Meichtry, who won a gold medal for swimming in the 2012 Olympics, said many folks are struggling with mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic, and sports can be a healthy outlet.

“Sports, for me personally, was the only way for me to stay out of trouble growing up,” Meichtry said. “To not offer sports in a safe environment is doing a big disservice to our population.” 

Bob Turner, president of the California Youth Soccer Association, said he’s worried about the kids’ mental health given the lack of sports competitions.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “Look out for the kids. The science is isn’t showing any more that these kids are transmitting this and it’s harmful.” 

Turner said every weekend, thousands of kids are traveling, which is not only placing a burden on families but also increasing the likelihood of the virus to spread as the athletes have to travel to other places and stay in hotels.

“We can stop this. Let us do our jobs,” he said. “Everybody is going rogue. They’re out there playing anyway. There’s not the physical/social distancing that’s happening. But we will make sure that it happens.”

Turner said local youth sports leaders are committed to social distancing, wearing face coverings and other measures to protect young athletes.

“We can manage this,” he said. “Every single sport has these protocols in place. We have these guidelines, and we want to protect these kids. But we know that the mental, emotional and physical well-being of these kids is completely impacted right now, and we need to stop it.”

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