Late Friday afternoon, a group of parents and student-athletes gathered in front of the William S. Hart Union High School District office to urge the district to bring athletic-conditioning back to school campuses.
Representing teams and schools from across the district, the group held signs on the street corner of Spirit Court and Centre Pointe Parkway that read “Let them play,” “Sports are essential” and “Sports keep me healthy.”
On Wednesday, the Hart district’s governing board had not definitively voted to postpone the return of athletic conditioning — such activity is on pause due to the ongoing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic — but instead, postponed the discussion to its Jan. 20 meeting, citing the need to continue their evaluation of the situation at successive board meetings.
The few dozen present mentioned the physical and mental health benefits that come with team sports and activity.
“We really would like the whole district to reverse their decision and let our kids condition, working safely in small groups and to get them back playing again,” said Stephanie Testa, a parent of a Valencia High football and baseball player. And when the students are finally allowed to compete, “Then they’ll be ready to go rather than sitting at home,” she said.
“We want them out there seeing their friends,” Testa added. “And I understand suicide rates are going up for kids that are staying home and not being (particularly) active.”
Ralph, Testa’s son who’s a sophomore, said after last year’s baseball season was canceled due to the pandemic — and facing spring without the game — he was out there on Friday to “fight to play sports this year.”
“(Sports) keep us going through school and they’re activities … that we have to look forward to,” said Ralph.
“I’m out here because I want to play sports,” said Anthony Castillo, a Valencia High freshman who was standing beside Ralph.
During the protest, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman walked out to greet those gathered on the corner in front of the district office, saying he went down not to debate them, but to assure them that he would be communicating their concerns directly to the board.
“I shared with them that I appreciate them coming out, that we understand how deeply important this is to so many families in our community and I assured them that we have spent time thinking about — and it weighs on us — that this virus is causing us to take certain actions that impact students well being and mental health,” said Kuhlman.
Kuhlman said he took pictures of the crowd to send to his board members and show those families in attendance that he was communicating their concerns to the “decision-makers on the board.”
Also on the corner, in a show of solidarity, was Rocco Izzo, a Santa Clarita-based sophomore who said he attended a nearby private school but not which one, said he wanted his friends to have the same privilege he had: to be out practicing with their respective school teams.
“We’re out here to support the kids who need to play,” said Izzo’s mother, Anna. “Bottom line is, if they’re following the protocols to keep the kids safe, which the kids are doing and the coaches are doing, then there’s no reason why they can’t play.”
The California Interscholastic Federation, or CIF, released an updated statement about their most recent protocols Jan. 12, which stated regardless of a county’s tier status as it relates to COVID-19, outdoor, socially distanced, physical conditioning and skill training may take place for teams.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, teams are allowed to participate in conditioning exercises within small pods of players. However, Kuhlman said that in recent weeks Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County Public Health has been quoted as saying she “strongly recommends” that all non-essential activities on school campuses be temporarily suspended.
However, competition between two teams will not be allowed in California until Jan. 25 “at the earliest.”