A host of regional youth soccer clubs have been doing more than practicing lately — they’ve been collecting their own player health data to convince government officials that it’s safe to modify currently allowable activities.
The 12-club Girls Academy NorthWest Conference, which includes East County players, collected 10 weeks of their own COVID-19 case data that appears to verify that currently allowable outdoor training sessions don’t cause the disease to spread — meaning that it’s time to safely ease restrictions.
“I don’t think there is anyone really championing this situation,” said Troy Dayak, president of the West Coast Soccer Club, a conference member with 11 other California and Washington clubs. “There is no one out there trying to help our teams get back out to doing normal sport activities.”
The 12-club, 10-week study found only six confirmed COVID-19 cases — all apparently contracted outside training sessions — after analyzing 10,660 team practice sessions involving 235,230 California and Washington players.
Conference officials plan to use the data, in addition to a virtual petition, to urge officials to allow modified, safe, game-like intersquad contests, such as three-on-three, four-on-four or five-on-five, and eventually intersquad scrimmages and safe tournaments that could be followed up with similar COVID-19 case studies to ensure that the new activity isn’t causing problems.
West Coast Soccer players, including East County players, currently must maintain six feet of distance from all other squad members and ten feet from any other teams or groups during training, in addition to following other required regulations such as temperature checks, routine hand sanitizer use and a prohibition on equipment sharing.
“This is the just the beginning, but far from the end of the work that will continually need to be done to deal with our nemesis, COVID-19,” said Girls Academy Commissioner Lesle Gallimore. “Competition is such a great outlet, and soccer should always be a source of fun and joy. We are hopeful that games are a place where everyone can simply forget about everything going on around us and just laugh, smile, sweat, score a goal, save a shot and be able to leave the field happy.”
The California Department of Public Health said in a statement that the risk of transmitting the disease depends on several factors germane to sports, including distance between people; physical contact; and the touching of shared objects.
But Dayak counters that league play has safely resumed in other states, including New York and New Jersey, where COVID-19 rates were previously high.
Additionally, the professional National Women’s Soccer League recently hosted a month-long Utah tournament involving 2,000 players, coaches and staff, with no reported COVID-19 cases.
Dayak noted that a return to action would benefit players’ well-being, something West Coast players echoed this week.
“As a student, I understand how hard this distance learning and social distancing can be,” said Brentwood player Miranda Valle. “We are confined to our houses and just staring at screens all day, and it’s not healthy. We need to get out and we need to play.”
Going forward, Girls Academy NorthWest Conference officials intend to disseminate their information to county and state leaders to spur change.
They are also encouraging everyone to sign a virtual change.org petition that urges California Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide data on why activities like golf and dining out are safe but youth sports are not.
As of Wednesday morning, the petition had garnered just over 10,000 signatures.
If local tournaments are allowed to resume, then the conference said a myriad of disease-controlling regulations would be implemented, including temperature checks, hand sanitizer use, limited interaction between competing teams, use of sanitized balls and no in-stands spectators.
But first it must get the OK from health officials — something it won’t stop trying to secure.
“I want to be that little mosquito that keeps nipping and saying, ‘Don’t forget about us,’” Dayak said. “We are going to itch until you figure out what is biting you.”
To view the virtual petition, visit https://bit.ly/3m5SQte.