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‘Let Them Play’ rallies in Orange County call for resumption of high school athletics

Mike Pino, left, and others participate in a "Let Them Play" rally at Edison High School on Friday.
Mike Pino, left, and others participate in a “Let Them Play” rally at Edison High School on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The last time that David Singer stepped on the court for the Edison High School boys’ volleyball team, the Chargers walked away as winners of the Portola Tournament in March.

Ending the season on a win is a nice goal to have, but not when the reason is because the ability to play was ripped away by circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

The rest of Singer’s junior season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is still unknown whether he, and many seniors across California, might have played their last game in high school.

For that reason and more, about 200 people demonstrated on both sides of Magnolia Street in front of Edison High School, one of several “Let Them Play” rallies that were held on Friday afternoon.

“Not being able to play right now, it’s really heartbreaking because sports are so important for me and they’re a really big part of what I do,” Singer, a senior setter, said. “They go beyond just playing a sport. They help build friendships and keep me mentally stable.”

Current guidance for youth sports dictates that competition between two teams will not be allowed until at least Jan. 25, and even if it is allowed then, the sports that can compete will be subject to tiered designations. In the CIF Southern Section, all of which is in the purple tier, only cross-country would be allowed to start among the fall sports.

Wyatt Braddock, 5, with his mom Amy, participate in a "Let Them Play" rally at Edison High School on Friday.
Wyatt Braddock, 5, with his mom Amy, participate in a “Let Them Play” rally at Edison High School on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Brayden Johnson, 18, a senior tight end and defensive end for the Edison football program, said he would be open to a shortened season if it meant they could get back on the field.

“It would be all right to have at least five games,” Johnson said. “Since I was a little kid, me and my friends have always been talking about how our senior season is going to be, how we were all going to play together at Edison.”

Chris Cervellone, 65, of Huntington Beach, has a son who plays football at Edison. He said he felt bad for the seniors because he feels their ability to get recruited is being inhibited.

He held up a sign that said, “Sports, not politics,” with five American flags sticking from the top of it.

“I’m a devout American,” Cervellone said. “I believe in all the laws that we have, but I believe that these restrictions are unrealistic.”

The crowd was made up of mostly parents and students, although Bradford and Sydne Betz of Huntington Beach came out in support as educators. Bradford, 59, said he is an eighth-grade science teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District, and Sydne, 53, teaches in the Savanna School District.

Students and family members participate in a "Let Them Play" rally at Edison High School on Friday.
Students and family members participate in a “Let Them Play” rally at Edison High School on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The couple has already had two graduates from Edison, but they said that they felt it was important for kids to be on campus for both their academic and social wellbeing.

At Huntington Beach High School, a few dozen people showed up with signs in hand, including healthy representation for the football program.

“We just wanted to show that to us, it’s more than a game,” Dylan Weber, a sophomore defensive lineman, said. “We love playing this game. It’s what I eat, sleep and breathe.”

Katie Wills, 45, of Huntington Beach, asked why high school sports cannot be played in California when school-based athletics have resumed in other states.

“I’ve talked to friends of mine whose children are extremely depressed,” Wills said. “They can’t go out. They can’t be with their friends. Their lives have stopped.”

Orange County reported 82 new deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in updated numbers released by the Orange County Health Care Agency on Friday.

That brings the total loss of life in the county as a result of the pandemic to 2,277. The healthcare agency attributed Friday’s high number of fatalities to delays in data transmission. There were also 3,158 new infections, bringing the cumulative case count to 205,911.

Hospitalizations because of the virus were at 2,101, with 534 of those patients being treated in intensive care units. The county also reported 27,279 tests for the virus within the last day, which takes the total number of tests administered to 2,376,542.

About 50 parents and students gathered near Corona del Mar High School, organizing and picking up signs before heading to the corner of Jamboree and Ford roads. Many drivers honked their approval as they passed.

Hockey player Christian Brown participates in the statewide "Let Them Play" rally at Corona del Mar High on Friday.
Hockey player Christian Brown participates in the statewide “Let Them Play” rally at Corona del Mar High on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Jo Merriman, one of the organizers of the CdM rally, has had her sons J.J. and Trent affected by the sports stoppage. The stepbrothers are sophomores at CdM; J.J. plays baseball and wrestles, while Trent plays football.

“We’re focused on getting kids back to their sports, whatever sport that may be,” Jo Merriman said.

“They’ve been watching for months kids in other states do it and do it safely. We think that CIF and the state need to figure it out. They needed to figure it out months ago, but we can’t keep waiting. We have a lot of frustrated parents and even more frustrated kids.”

David Rasor is a sophomore quarterback for the CdM football team, and he showed up with many of his Sea Kings teammates. After splitting time between the freshman and varsity teams last season, he said he was hoping to make a mark on the varsity squad this year.

The first football games were originally scheduled for last weekend in CIF’s modified schedule; the section will make an announcement on the status of its fall sports championships on Tuesday.

“We’ve had practices on and off,” Rasor said. “We’ve lacked a routine a bunch. We’ll get in a groove and we’ll start doing well, and then we’ll have to take two weeks off due to COVID. It really messes with our progress as a team.”

Newport Beach City Council member Will O’Neill, who served as the city’s mayor in 2020, was another “Let Them Play” supporter who showed up to support the rally. He held a sign that read, “Support kids’ mental health.”

Parents and student-athletes participate in the statewide "Let Them Play" rally at Corona del Mar High on Friday.
Parents and student-athletes participate in the statewide “Let Them Play” rally at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It’s really important for them to be outside exercising for their physical health, and sports is important for their mental health,” O’Neill said. “If you talk to any parents — and I’ve talked to a lot of them this year — there are a lot of kids suffering with mental health issues. I think it’s really important for the kids to get back.”

Though the coronavirus numbers continue to spike in Orange County, CdM parent Kirsten Daffron is hopeful that her sons Jack Harty, a senior cross-country runner, and Cameron Harty, a sophomore quarterback, will have a season.

Daffron said she knows that the majority of the states in the country have participated in high school sports in the 2020-21 school year, though California has not.

“They’re losing out,” she said. “They’re losing a year of their lives, and you’ll never get that back. I’m fine with the masks, whatever, we’ll do what we have to do, but are you kidding me?”

CdM senior wrestler Emilio Franco has tried to keep busy and in shape on his own. Franco, who was the first CdM boys’ wrestler to advance to the CIF State Meet since 1979 as a junior, hopes for an encore.

He said he’s been training three times a week with his club team in Tustin. He also won the USA Wrestling preseason nationals meet in Des Moines, Iowa, last October, he said.

“No one has gotten COVID in the gym, and no one has family and friends that have gotten COVID,” Franco said. “It feels like everything has stopped for no reason.”

Parents and student-athletes participate in the statewide "Let Them Play" rally at Corona del Mar High on Friday.
Parents and student-athletes participate in the statewide “Let Them Play” rally at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 37,739 cases; 429 deaths
  • Anaheim: 34,743 cases; 462 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 8,321 cases; 119 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 7,008 cases; 65 deaths
  • Irvine: 7,940 cases; 32 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 2,909 cases; 36 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 2,704 cases; 35 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 628 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 20,260 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 28,702 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 42,033 cases; 27 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 32,466 cases; 47 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 33,292 cases; 160 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 25,661 cases; 303 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 12,680 cases; 442 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 6,336 cases; 524 deaths
  • 85 and older: 4,343 cases; 768 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. Information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County can be found at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-vaccine-resources.

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