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Events supporting prep, youth sports set for Friday in Manteca, Ripon
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Blake Nichelson and the Manteca High football cool down after a summer conditioning practice on June 9. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Aaron Wood started playing football with the Ripon Chiefs when he was 7. 

Now a senior at Ripon High, he'd love to have a proper sendoff on the gridiron and to open up new opportunities in track and field. His dad, Brian, and thousands of other California parents are doing their part so that students don't lose out on another season of prep sports. 

The Wood family will be among those present Friday for the “Let Them Play” rally starting 4 p.m. on the corners of Main Street and Wilma Avenue. It's one of many planned for cities across the state on the same day and time. Manteca Unified families are invited to show their support in front of the district office on 2271 W. Louise Avenue. 

“Aaron has a couple colleges talking to him to be a decathlete, but if there isn't a track season how is he supposed to get numbers for these coaches?” Brian Wood said. “I know there are thousands of kids in that same situation, especially the seniors. I see my kids at home and they can't even get outside for sports to relieve some of that pressure, stress and anxiety.”

Aaron, one of three Wood children enrolled at Ripon High, played a big role in the school's state championship football team in 2019 as starting linebacker and back-up quarterback. 

The elder Wood emphasizes that event organizers are encouraging rally-goers to wear face masks, practice social distancing and contrive signs and chants with positive messages.  

“Let's not make this political,” Wood said. “The No. 1 thing is to be safe. … We want to let them know we're here, we care about the kids and to let them play the sports that they love.”

The “Let Them Play” movement has grown in the past 10 months, with more than 27,000 members on the “Let Them Play CA” group page on Facebook. In California, youth and prep sports ceased in mid-March of 2019 as coronavirus pandemic began its rapid spread in the state. 

The aim is to convince state politicians and health officials that youth sports can safely take place. 

Last month, the California Department of Public Health released its anticipated guidance for youth and high school sports, penciling in Jan. 25 as the earliest start date for some competitions to begin. CDPH stated it would reassess on Jan. 4, but so far it has given no word any commitment or change to that start date. 

With most counties still in the most-restrictive purple tier of the state's reopening plan, only outdoor, non-contact sports such as golf and tennis would be permitted to begin competition on Jan. 25. Major team sports require counties to be in the orange and yellow tiers. California Interscholastic Federation is pushing for all sports to be allowed in the red tier. 

There is some hope for at least spring sports to get the go-ahead after the spring season was mostly wiped away in 2019. 

“We'd love to get a football season in, even if it's just a few games,” Sierra teacher and head football coach Chris Johnson said. “But honestly, spring sports is what I'm hoping for at this point. Anything for them would be a plus.”