Two San Diego-area high school athletes are suing the state and county over coronavirus restrictions on high school sports, as part of a larger call Friday on state leadership to allow youth sports to resume.
The lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court alleges millions of student athletes across the state have been barred from participating in athletic activities without adequate medical evidence to support the restrictions.
The complaint was filed Thursday on behalf of football star Nicholas Gardinera, a senior at Scripps Ranch High School, and two-sport player Cameron Woolsey, a senior at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos.
It alleges that 47 other states have allowed high school sports to resume, and “plaintiffs know of no evidence that allowing high school sports has led to an increase in COVID-19 transmission or hospitalization in any of those 47 states.”
Defendants include Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state Department of Public Health, San Diego County, and its public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) is coauthoring an Assembly Concurrent Resolution calling for the resumption of youth sports programs in California.
“This ‘Let Them Play’ resolution will tell the Newsom administration that it’s time to let kids back on to the court, field, and track,” Jones said in a statement. “For almost a year, organized sports for youth have been locked-down by the governor. The negative physical and mental health effects on young people have been devastating.”
Like other lawsuits before it challenging California’s pandemic restrictions, the students’ complaint disputes public health officials “arbitrarily” allowing some sectors to operate, while prohibiting others. In this case, the lawsuit states that professional and collegiate sports teams are allowed to play if they follow certain protocols such as social distancing, mask wearing and contact tracing, while no such permissions exist for high school teams.
Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for California Health and Human Services Agency, said in a statement that as of Jan. 25, youth sports with “lower risk of exposure” can resume competition, per state guidance. Outdoor practice, training, skill-building and physical conditioning are permitted for all sports statewide, she said.
Gardinera and Woolsey are both football players, which means their sports cannot resume play until San Diego County drops from the purple tier to the orange tier, when “outdoor high-contact sports” are permitted, per California Public Health guidance.
“Throughout the pandemic, California has worked to keep virus transmission in check by providing public health guidance based on level of spread across our community and transmission risk associated with specific activities and settings,” Folmar said. “We are always evaluating conditions on the ground and assessing whether to refine our guidance, and we’ll continue to do so. We know that youth sports are important to our children’s physical and mental health, and our public health approach has worked to balance those benefits against COVID-19 risks.”
The state’s guidance, however, does not apply to collegiate or professional sports.
The suit references the San Diego Padres, which took part in the 2020 Major League Baseball season and playoffs, sans fans in attendance, as well as the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros, who all played postseason baseball at an empty Petco Park.
Among college teams, the suit mentions the San Diego State Aztecs and University of San Diego Toreros’ men’s and women’s basketball seasons currently under way.
“If a sport is safe for college students to play when following certain protocols, it is no less safe were high school student athletes to follow these same protocols,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that the absence of athletic activities during the pandemic has contributed to a rise in dropout rates, failing grades, depression, gang activity and suicidal thoughts.
On Friday, a coalition of youth athletics coaches were joined by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan in a virtual news conference calling on the governor’s office to allow youth sports to resume.
Stephan said that since schools have been closed, reports of child exploitation are “skyrocketing,” with the District Attorney’s Office seeing increases in child sex trafficking and gang-related homicides involving youths.
“We cannot keep talking as a civilization about kids being our future, and then not giving them every chance that they deserve to have that future in a responsible manner,” she said.
Ron Gladnick, head football coach at Torrey Pines High School, also spoke during the news conference and said he and other coaches recently conversed with Newsom and the governor’s executive secretary Jim DeBoo on the topic of resuming youth sports.
Gladnick said initial talks were encouraging, but “since then, nothing has really happened.”
“Three millions kids in California deserve a greater sense of urgency then they’re being given by our government right now,” he said.
Updated at 5:24 p.m. Jan. 29, 2021
— City News Service