By Steve Fryer
Coaches are taking club baseball teams to Arizona and Utah for games because they can’t play those games in Orange County.
Football players have left California for other states where less-restrictive COVID- 19 regulations make a high school sports season more likely to happen.
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, two former Olympic athletes and several local youth sports organizers say it’s time that coaches, athletes and teams have the opportunity to play again in Orange County.
With a podium and microphone set up on home plate at one of Tustin Sports Park’s ballfields, Wagner led a group of speakers Monday in calling on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow youth sports to resume.
Speaker Jessica Hardy Meichtry, a medal-winning swimmer at the 2012 Olympics and former 50-meter breaststroke world-record holder, said participating in sports was an integral part of her life.
“Sports for me personally were the only way I stayed out of trouble growing up,” she said. “It’s really important for our kids to have an outlet for that.”
Mission Viejo Mayor Brian Goodell, who swam his way to two gold medals in the 1976 Olympics, said the onus is on Newsom when it comes to getting youth sports running like they did before the pandemic.
“People say, ‘Defy the governor and open up,’” Goodell said.
“Well, we can’t do that. That would place you, first off, out of compliance with state law and, second off, it places you at risk for liability that wouldn’t be covered under our joint powers authority insurance program for our parks and recreation department. So for a lot of issues here, our hands are tied as a city government.”
In July, the California Interscholastic Federation or CIF, which oversees high school sports, announced that the sports year that usually begins in August would not start until December.
Supervisor Don Wagner holds an “Open Youth Sports Now” press conference in Tustin on Monday. Joining him are Olympic gold medalists Brian Goodell, top left, and Jessica Hardy Meichtry.
PHOTOS BY MINDY SCHAUER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Wagner, who has pushed for broader reopening of schools and businesses, suggested that delay may have been unnecessary.
“I think we’re hearing from people here that it can be done sooner than that,” Wagner said. “I would look at the science that’s out there about the susceptibility of kids (to COVID-19). I would take a look at the protocols that all these sports and industries have, and then make individual determinations.
“Are those sufficient or not? Obviously the professionals were are saying that they are. If they are, what’s so magic about December?”
Guy Lemmon, who runs a nonprofit that organizes baseball tournaments and showcases, said he believes sports is one of the safest activities kids could be doing right now. The Ryan Lemmon Foundation was named for Guy Lemmon’s son, an All-County baseball player at Woodbridge High in Irvine who died in 1994.
“They’re in the great outdoors,” Lemmon said. “You would presume science would say the gathering of kids in an outdoors environment is safer than having them stay indoors.”
Among those fleeing the state to play sports elsewhere are former Newport Harbor High School quarterback Cole Lavin, who moved to Utah for his senior season, and Jake Garcia, who withdrew from La Habra High to move to Georgia. Baseball coach Brett Kay has taken his San Juan Missions travel team to play tournaments in Arizona and Utah.
“Each place we’ve played at has their own facility rules that everybody’s abiding by,” said Kay, who also is head baseball coach at JSerra High. “Parents are social distancing in the stands, players wear masks when they get to the fields, and once the game starts they can wear masks in the dugout if they want to. It’s kind of like what you’d wish California would be.”
CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said by phone Monday that his organization understands how badly young athletes and their parents want the kids to be able to play sports again.
“And we of course want them to play,” Nocetti said. “We announced on July 20 that we will follow the governor’s guidance and the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education.”
Wagner disagreed with CIF leaders’ approach and suggested their plan is to “do nothing and let’s wait for a vaccine — let’s see what happens.”
But parents tell him that’s unacceptable, Wagner said, adding, “We’re eight months into this now and I think a lot of folks are saying they can’t wait — and frankly I think a lot of people don’t believe the governor.”
Olympian Jessica Hardy Meichtry speaks about the benefits of sports during Supervisor Don Wagner’s “Open Youth Sports Now” press conference in Tustin on Monday.
MINDY SCHAUER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER