A statewide movement to get high school sports up and running found its way to Tehachapi on Friday, as parents and athletes continued efforts to salvage some type of athletic season in the 2020-21 school year.
A group calling itself Let Them Play CA organized rallies up and down California on Friday, with hopes of kick-starting a return to competition. According to the group’s Facebook page, 138 such rallies were held throughout the state.
While there didn’t appear to be any such rallies held in Bakersfield on Friday, the one in Tehachapi featured roughly 30 spectators convening in the parking lot outside the high school football stadium.
Gathering for roughly an hour, attendees — most of whom were not wearing masks — brought hand-made signs, asking passing spectators, both in cars and trains, to honk in support. Though small, event organizers hoped Friday’s demonstration would prove to be a valuable first step toward their ultimate goal.
“The bigger picture is getting the CIF’s attention with all of the communities participating,” said Emily Van Andel, who organized the Tehachapi rally. “Our end goal would be to get our kids back on the field and in the gyms. I don’t know how successful we can be, but it’s a start.”
Currently, California is one of six states that has not set a start date for a return to competition.
On Tuesday, the CIF released an updated, though mostly unchanged set of guidelines indicating which sports counties could conduct based on their COVID tier. Under current rules, Kern, which is in the most-restrictive Purple tier, would be allowed to host cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field.
Van Andel, whose son Mason is a senior on the Warrior football team, felt Friday’s turnout was OK. She said the school district sent out an email earlier in the week asking athletes not to participate, which she felt hurt the final numbers.
Athletes who did attend, like junior baseball and football player Steven Sills, said they’re feeling a mounting pressure as opportunities to achieve certain goals seem to be slipping away.
“I want to get a scholarship to play baseball, but I can’t do that with no sports in high schools being played,” he said. “I wanted to make a statement for everyone.”
Others in the community expressed a belief that schools could find a clear and safe path back to the playing fields and courts.
Joan Pogon-Cord coached numerous sports in a four-decade career at Tehachapi High School, where she worked from 1972-2011. With delays having lasted nearly a year at this point, she believes many kids are missing the essential structure that athletics provide.
Pogon-Cord, who was one of the few attendees to wear a mask at Friday’s rally, said it’s critical for sports to start up again, even if teams have to make a few concessions in their return to action.
“I think they could hold the season if they just allow the kids on the court with their coaches and no spectators,” Pogon-Cord said. “If they need to wear masks, they can. Sports are very important for the kids. It’s an outlet for them so they can stay out of trouble.
“I think it’s critical just for the kids’ development. They need something other than being home. It gives them direction, it gives them something solid.”