High school athletes in California continue to remain sidelined due to health restrictions California put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
As kids throughout the state eagerly await sports to return, high school programs in 35 states have started their fall sports seasons, according to MaxPreps.
Youth and high school athletes meanwhile must wait until Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials say it’s safe to allow sports to return. Sports like football, volleyball, tennis and swimming, which were supposed to begin in August, are continuing to be pushed back.
The stoppage has put more financial pressure and health concerns on some families as they look for ways to keep their kids physically active. Recreational sports are usually an affordable option for those who don’t have the budget to participate in either an AAU or club team. But the leagues have been been canceled due to the virus threat.
For Mark Van Denend, a father of five in Redding, the extra cost to pay for club sports is not something his family can afford. He has five sons with one who is in college, two in high school and two in middle school.
Van Denend is also a foster parent and is constantly having to use his resources to support his family.
“My kids are in a small school and I’m already paying for that so there’s no room in the budget for a private league,” Van Denend said. “I’m certainly not going to drive to Reno or how ever far it is. So now you’re having to tack on $1,000 in overnight stays and it just gets tough. The bigger the family, the more kids you have sports in — it gets to be impossible.”
Youth sports inequity gaps widen
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the economic divide was already widening between those who could afford club sports and those who couldn’t.
A study by the Aspen Institute in 2018 showed only one in five children whose family income is less than $25,000 participated in sports. In 2019, the National Federation of State High School Associations found a decrease in sports participation for the first time in 30 years.
The issue surrounding competitive sports during the coronavirus isn’t only about affordability but availability. Redding resident Shay Butcher has three sons who each play high school football at Enterprise High School.
With high school football being put under an indefinite hiatus under orders from Newsom, Butcher says her children have lost an element in their lives that helps them maintain their physical and mental health.
“As far as a budget goes, I just try to keep my kids involved in sports to keep them out of trouble because it holds them accountable for everything,” Butcher said. “It keeps them disciplined and I need these sports to come back because it keeps them in line and focused.”
Marikit del Rosario-Sabet who lives in Redding is one of the parents who can afford to put her children into private training lessons. Her 14-year-old daughter Aria attends Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness to get training in tennis.
The sport itself allows competitors and team members to socially distance and still conduct competitions in an open air environment that decreases the risk of catching COVID-19.
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“Taking lessons hasn’t been a problem because she isn’t standing side-by-side, which makes it an easier sport to play because of the pandemic,” Rosario-Sabet said. “The thing that is unfortunate, though, is that you have other tennis players who do not have that same accessibility unless they have a friend they can play with.”
With tournaments, lessons and equipment included, Rosario-Sabet estimates she spends $200 per week.
Soccer parent Frank Bramante who lives in Redding says he takes his daughter to train and practice with clubs across Northern California. With travel and weekend hotel expenses for a family of three, he spends over $200 per week.
Bramante views the money he spends on sports as an investment and is hoping his daughter will be able to use soccer as a way to pay for college.
“The question is how important is sports?” Bramante said. “If you have an athlete that has the potential, do you draw the line because you’re not willing to spend the money to reach that potential? It’s not just a matter of money but a matter of time willing to be put in.”
Getting creative for all students
For some families in the area, the need for club sports is impractical. School periods like nutrition\recess and lunch are utilized as a way for children and teenagers to release pent up energy. The coronavirus pandemic has forced some school districts within the area like Gateway Unified School District to do distance learning. That includes conducting classes like physical education from home using Zoom.
Central Valley football coach and physical education teacher Aaron Richards says he and other teachers in his district have had to use their imagination to keep their students engaged.
“We have to get creative, not just for my football players but for all my students,” Richards said. “I’ve given them yoga videos, mental health videos and we do a ‘wacky throwback’ Thursday. I even had the kids do a Richard Simmons video. At this point, we just have to get creative to get the kids active.”
Richards says some of his students can’t get access to a gym because there aren’t any in Shasta Lake. His students are forced to travel eight miles to Redding to complete lessons. He explained it’s because some of his students aren’t old enough to drive or have parents who are using the family vehicle for work.
Despite the coronavirus changing the normal routine for his teaching, Richards says he doesn’t want him or his students to view this time in a negative light.
“Not just my football players but all my students have multiple options for their workouts. I’ve given them yoga videos and mental health videos, ” Richards said. “Everyone has made this out to be some doomsday period and I’m not about that. Let’s get the kids active.”
Inequity in sports participation, COVID puts kids at higher risk of obesity
Without having safe and affordable places to play and exercise, children and teens are at greater risk for obesity due to lack of activity away from campus.
A study by Brown School at Washington University in May projected a 2.4% increase in childhood obesity due to inactivity caused by school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shasta County Public Health Program Manager April Jurisich explained the importance of keeping children active and gave tips on healthy and inexpensive activities families can do together.
“Exercising can be as simple as taking family walks,” Jurisich said. “Kids really need 60 minutes of moderate to physical activity a day to help them move their bodies. Another great way is for children to walk or bike to school to get movement throughout their day.”
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As parents shuffle to find places for their children to play, Redding youth sports supervisor Jeff Hansen late last month talked about weekend conditioning classes open to children on Saturdays at Caldwell Park. The price of admission is $40 for four weeks of physical education that will be instructed by Hansen and Redding Recreation camp counselors.
“The class is 45 minutes of P.E. games that are socially distanced on the soccer field and throughout the park,” Hansen said. “Then there’s 30 minutes of free swim time in the pool at the Redding Aquatic Center.”
Enterprise assistant women’s basketball coach Ky Strickler moved from Inglewood in southern Los Angeles to Redding as a teenager. If he were to try club sports now, he said it would’ve put a financial strain on his family. That’s why he says recreational programs like the American Youth Soccer Organization are vital to communities.
“(My family) would have tried our best to find the best competition but that’s where recreational sports really comes into play,” Strickler said. “Especially if you don’t love the sport, that’s the perfect place to get introduced.”
While there are arguments about which students will be better prepared for competition when high school sports makes their return, Strickler said, the most important aspect of sports is what it can teach about integrity, leadership and fair play.
It’s a part of life that he feels students of all ages will continue to miss while the pandemic persists.
“Being on a team makes you a leader and makes you a more well-rounded person,” Strickler said. “You understand what it takes to make sacrifices for one another for a common goal and I think those are important to teach young people.” \
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Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams’ move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Hanson won the 2020 Golden Mic Award for sports broadcasting. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.