On Monday, a group of five high school athletes in Orange County filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom and other entities, fighting his statewide COVID-19 pandemic ban on youth sports.
In Nelson, et. al V. County of Orange, et. al, the plaintiffs argue that Orange County, Governor Newsom, and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. While college and professional level indoor sports such as basketball and hockey have been allowed to play, youth sports have been specifically barred. The students legal representation, Wingert, Grebing, Burbaker & Juskie,is the same law firm who recently won a lawsuit for youth sports to return in San Diego County, are asking for a similar restraining order to allow youth sports to played in Orange County.
While outdoor contact sports were recently finally allowed to resume statewide by the CDPH due to better health conditions and mental health concerns, the reprieve did not extend to indoor sports. Currently in California, high school athletes cannot return to indoor sports unless a county reaches the lowest reopening tier, yellow. As of Tuesday, Orange County was still listed in the highest reopening tier, purple.
The five Orange County athletes named in the suit, who comprise a basketball player, a wrestler, a cheerleader, and two volleyball players, noted that they need the competitive playing time for college and that it was unfair since other sports, most notably football, get to play despite having more players on a team.
“I’ve been watching college volleyball for a while now and it’s frustrating seeing them play cause we’re not able to,” said El Modena High School volleyball player Elodie Danet. “We’re not able to play the season and have the experience needed for college.”
“It’s been a little bit annoying considering I’ve been working hard all this quarantine and then we just keep getting canceled. It’s just frustrating,” said Canyon High School basketball player Caleb Graham in a Fox News interview on Monday.
Others have noted that, in addition to the equal protection argument, that there is no medical evidence that justifies banning youth sports while allowing college and professional leagues, who have considerably more people at games, to continue playing in California. Brad Graham, the father of Caleb and part of the Let Them Play CA advocacy group that wants youth sports to return to California, gave the same argument to the media on Monday.
“They can’t say that it’s OK for college to play and not OK for the high school kids to play,” Brad Graham said. “The time to move forward is now, there’s not a huge risk to these kids, especially if we follow the same protocols that colleges and pros follow.”
One year of no competition for indoor youth sports
The movement to reinstate youth sports has grown quickly in California since the fall of last year, with parents upset over delays of virtually every youth sport being played competitively. Some youth sports, such as basketball, have not been played in the state for nearly a year now.
“March is the anniversary, and we’re just about hitting that date now,” Robert Comacho, a parent in Los Angeles County currently fighting for indoor youth sports to return there, told the Globe. “These kids haven’t played for a year now. That’s a year of not being mentally healthy. That’s a year of not exercising as much. That’s a year that colleges won’t be looking at them. And now they just want to keep doing it to them despite everyone else getting to come back? The NCAA is even allowing March Madness to come back.”
“For people wondering why we’re fighting this hard, it’s because of our kids futures. This isn’t about politics. This is for our kids and knowing that they’ll be safe out there. If it’s not a health or safety concern, then why do this?”
The lawsuit, should the indoor sports ban continue for the near future, is expected to be heard in Orange County Superior Court soon.