The first time I heard the phrase "Let them play," it came in one of the "Bad News Bears" movies.
Recently "Let Them Play" has surfaced again, with the phrase certainly not for entertainment this time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put high school sports on the shelf since last spring. It has been a frustrating time for the student-athletes, and there has been plenty written in this space preaching the importance of high school sports to a student's development.
Frustrate someone long enough and they are going to push back. Now, parents of some student-athletes are starting to push back as their level of frustration has continued to grow.
A couple in Southern California started the "Let Them Play CA" movement in California, and the group already has over 36,000 members on Facebook.
The group promoted last Friday a series of statewide rallies at high schools. Amador Valley and Foothill families combined for one at Amador, while almost every school in the East Bay Athletic League took part in their own rallies. Altogether there were at least 200 rallies taking place in California.
There is another round of rallies planned for next Friday (Jan. 29), and it appears there could be more schools and people involved this time. Parents are expressing their frustrations and getting the word to California Gov. Gavin Newsom that it is time for things to change.
Last week I reached out to Serra High School coach Patrick Walsh, who applauds the movement. I have known Walsh since he was 11 and playing for San Ramon Valley Little League.
He starred at De La Salle before playing football at San Jose State. Now he is the longtime coach at Serra in San Mateo, and his program is among the elite in Northern California.
Ever since he was a kid, Walsh has always been a smart and thoughtful interview. He has also organized the "Golden State High School Football Coaches Community."
He launched the group Dec. 20, as he was tired of the situation not getting better.
"I felt trapped and helpless," Walsh said. "I believe it can be safe and fair to play youth sports."
I asked Walsh overall about the mentality of the student-athletes, not just at Serra and not just in football.
"We have three million kids on the bench right now," he said. "We are now seeing (not playing and being stuck at home) as unsafe. We are neglecting an entire generation of kids. Kids are getting anxious and depressed -- their mental health is at stake."
Having the high school athletes compete again is crucial to helping the situation.
"Kids are an essential business," Walsh said.
I pushed the 1993 De La Salle grad on if he could imagine what it would have been like his senior year in high school with no sports.
"In a strange way, I feel like I am fighting for my 17-year-old self as much as I am fighting for today's 17-year-old," Walsh said. "I would have been on a mental health watch. I would have been depressed with no idea who to talk with."
Walsh, like many other high school coaches, has been collecting data from other states that have been playing sports. They also are very diligent about safety when running camps.
"We're not jumping to add more bodies in ICU rooms," emphasized Walsh. "We're just trying to show support for the kids that have been silent through this."
Local seniors give back!
Anirudh Murugesan and Jackson Cash are the captains of the Foothill and Amador Valley boys basketball teams, respectively.
Both embrace that Pleasanton has played a huge role in their development as athletes and young men. Now, as they come close to moving on to college, that want to give something back.
They have established the "New Year, New Gear" drive, working with school administrations and charity organizations. They will be accepting donations of all new or slightly used sports gear. The proceeds will go directly to EAT Sports Foundation, a local organization focused on providing resources, opportunities and relief to at-risk athletes and underprivileged families in underserved areas.
They will be hosting the "New Year, New Gear" drive next Saturday (Jan. 30) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be two drop locations: Amador's front parking lot and Foothill's senior lot. Strict COVID protocols will be enforced, including masks, social distancing and disinfectants.
To learn more contact, Murugesan at [email protected]
Editor's note: Dennis Miller is a contributing sports writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. To contact him about his "Pleasanton Preps" column, email [email protected]