“Let Them Play” group fights for youth sports

Pierce Walker runs to daylight in a McNary Youth Football eighth grade game from last season. McNary Youth Football has been involved with the “Let Them Play” campaign for the last few weeks (File).

Over the last three-and-a-half months, virtually all sports have been put on hold due to the spread of COVID-19.

While professional and college sports have a strategy on a return to action, parents all over the state have been pleading with government officials to let all youth athletes return to playing their favorite sports.

A petition, intended to catch the attention of Gov. Kate Brown, called “Let Them Play! Oregonians for Athletes” has received more than 18,000 signatures and has more than 25,000 Facebook members. The purpose of the petition is to urge Gov. Brown to prioritize youth and high school sports across the state.

The “Let Them Play” group also organized a rally outside of the state capitol on Sunday, June 14.

McNary Youth Football (MYF) President Kyle Hughes has been a big advocate for the “Let Them Play” movement, and even organized a two-day phone call campaign to Gov. Brown’s office.

“It’s a good way to get different voices out there on behalf of kids. Kids need that sports outlet to get them back to normal life,” Hughes said.

The vast majority of the state is in the phase two reopening process, which means that many kids have been allowed to participate in athletic-related activities.

Earlier in June, the OSAA released their second phase of guidance for high school athletics, which allows student-athletes to come back to their school facilities and participate in modified workouts, conditioning and individual drills — Salem-Keizer prep athletes aren’t allowed to participate until July 1, which is when local facilities will open back up.

Youth sports, where physical contact is limited, have been able to start competition back up under the state’s phase two guidelines — there were a small number of youth baseball and softball games taking place in Oregon over Father’s Day weekend. However, sports that involve participants coming into bodily contact are prohibited under phase two restrictions.

Brown has also stated that phase two will be in effect until a reliable treatment or vaccine is available, which means that sports, such as football, wouldn’t be able to take place this fall — basketball, wrestling, lacrosse and cheerleading also fall into this category, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

This did not sit well with Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer and several parents in Southern Oregon — who are responsible for getting the petition started.

“There is no question that this situation will lead to numerous adverse effects to our children’s physical and mental health, attendance and performance in school, personal and professional growth and too many more negative consequences to mention. It will also create far-reaching ripple effects that will be felt in Oregon for many years. With the world in the state it is in currently, it is more imperative than ever to ensure our kids are able to be involved in these positive and constructive activities,” the petition says on their website,

Members of the “Let Them Play” group also believe that college and professional athletes in the state are getting preferential treatment — Brown has allowed Oregon college athletes to return to their facilities to begin voluntary workouts. Since June 1, when the NCAA began permitting voluntary workouts on college campuses, more more than 100 positive COVID-19 cases have affected collegiate athletes throughout the country. However, the NCAA is still preparing to play games this fall, even if a vaccine or cure isn’t found. 

“It was also reported that there will be exceptions made for college and pro sports teams to play. This not only acknowledges the fact that these activities can be engaged in safely, it creates an unacceptable disparity that needs to be rectified. Our kids need to be represented fairly in this decision and a plan to allow them to engage in their activities needs to be developed and adopted,” the petition says.

“There are thousands of concerned parents, teachers, coaches, athletes and other citizens ready to be a part of that solution. We need swift and decisive action on this immediately so our kids can begin to engage in their fall sports programs without unnecessary delays.”

As of Tuesday, June 22, there have been 703 cases of COVID-19 among residents ages 0-19 — a group that represents 23 percent of Oregon’s population. However, there have been no deaths and only 11 hospitalizations.

Hughes knows that having football, and other sports, return to normalcy right now isn’t realistic. He just wants more transparency from the Governor.

“I feel like the line just keeps adjusting. It would be nice to know what the thought process is behind making these restrictions,” Hughes said.

Earlier this month, MYF started holding voluntary workouts at the grass fields at Keizer Little League.

The workouts mostly consist of speed and agility drills, but Hughes did mention that he’s is able to split kids in multiple groups to work on quarterback and receiver drills. There is one football in each group, which is cleaned and sanitized after every repetition.

“We’re just trying to get kids out of the house and give them the ability to see their friends and stay in shape,” Hughes said. “But we are also doing what we need to do to stay safe.”

Hughes admitted that he isn’t concerned about the outbreaks at different colleges. But while he and the “Let Them Play” group fight for making fall sports happen, Hughes wants to make sure his players are being incredibly cautious during their workouts.

“It doesn’t worry me being out there. We take every precaution we can. Because (COVID-19) may not effect one of our kids, but it could effect someone’s parents or grandparents. If any of our kids are feeling any symptoms whatsoever, they need to stay home,” Hughes said.