More than 15,000 people sign petition for return of youth sports despite coronavirus pandemic

More than 15,000 people — mostly parents and coaches — have signed a petition asking Gov. Charlie Baker to reinstate competitive youth and adult sports in Massachusetts, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The petition — signed by 15,200 people within the last nine days, organizers say — asks Baker to reconsider both the risk level and the timing of the resumption of competitive sports.

“These teams are still playing,” said Tom Teager, president of Fore Kicks Sport Complexes in Norfolk, Marlboro and Taunton. “They’re just playing in other states, where they’re exposed to other people.”

Twenty-four girls lacrosse teams from Massachusetts high schools were scheduled to have a scrimmage on Aug. 1 and 2 in Marlboro, for example, but will play in New Hampshire instead because it was cancelled due to state guidelines, Teager said. And that kind of thing is happening weekly, he said.

“I can go to a casino and gamble and go to a gym or even go to a restaurant inside, but kids can’t play competitive soccer outside? It makes no sense,” said Jeff Brown, a Harvard Medical School epidemiologist and father of a 15-year-old Needham High School soccer player.

“As an epidemiologist, I have no concerns about my daughter,” Brown said. “The risk of transmission is minuscule for playing soccer outside. It is much more likely that kids’ mental health will be harmed by not playing sports.”

His daughter, Mina, said the summer league that she usually plays with was cancelled because of the new state guidelines.

“It’s really defeating,” she said. “The competition is something I live for. Soccer’s like my life.”

As of late Tuesday afternoon, at least 6,467 people under the age of 20 have contracted COVID-19, with 118 hospitalizations reported and zero deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

The Baker administration did not comment on the petition but said that sports that are permitted were selected based on several factors, including the inherent risk of transmitting COVID-19, and the intensity of potential contact among participants.

Among the sports deemed “higher risk” due to “close, sustained contact; lack of protective barriers; (and) high probability of respiratory particle transmission among participants” were soccer, football, wrestling, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, ice hockey, competitive cheer, martial arts, and crew or sailing with more than three people in a boat.

People who want to play higher-risk sports are limited to “individual or socially distanced group activities,” according to the guidelines.

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