Let Them Play movement heads to state Capitol

A growing movement calling for youth sports to resume in California descended upon the state Capitol on Thursday, where 100 student-athletes from throughout the state delivered 10,000 letters and signatures to the Governor’s Office asking him to reopen youth sports now.

The effort is led by Let Them Play CA, an organization that’s amassed nearly 60,000 members on Facebook since Jan. 1 and is averaging a growth of 2,000 new members per day. They’ve been urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift the nation’s toughest restrictions on youth sports, saying the data and research have shown minimal spread of COVID-19 in dozens of states where sports seasons have been completed during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the organization cites research suggesting the ban on sports is having a significant negative impact on student scholarships, futures and mental and physical health.

“The one thing I guarantee that will unify everybody in the state of California is kids,” said Patrick Walsh, head football coach at Serra High, at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “We will not turn our back on the kids, we are not going to stop, we are full speed ahead until you guys are wearing your pads, and you guys are bouncing the basketballs around, and you guys are playing.”

CJ McMillan, who plays football at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento, also spoke out Thursday, saying student athletes “want to do everything we can just to get to that next level.”

“Some of these people behind me, this is the only way out,” he said.

Zelbee Radar, who plays volleyball at Bella Vista High in Sacramento, added, “I’ve heard people say this isn’t about scholarships, but it is. I wanted to play this sport professionally. I wanted to travel and play nationally. This is about a scholarship I got taken from me. This is about student-athletes not getting to do what they love. This is about government officials not doing the right thing.”

Let Them Play CA is seeing promise in their efforts. Nearly half the California State Assembly members signed a resolution urging Gov. Newsom to allow football, baseball, basketball and other prep sports to start immediately. In the past week, two athletes teamed with the organization in filing a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court against state officials including the governor and county.