Students and parents from throughout Imperial County joined together at the “Let Them Play” rally at the Imperial County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 15, to support allowing youth sports in California to resume play. Those in attendance carried signs and heard from numerous speakers including student athletes and youth sports advocates. An estimated 130 coordinated rallies took place throughout the state that afternoon. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTOS

‘Let Them Play’: Students, Parents Send Strong Message at Sports Rally

“Let Them Play” rally organizer Ryan Rebollar, who is president of Brawley Youth Football, speaks during the rally outside the Imperial County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 15. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

EL CENTRO — Young athletes from throughout the Imperial Valley converged on the Imperial County Courthouse to make their voices heard that it’s time for California to allow them to return to the playing fields and courts.

From soccer to softball to baseball to gymnastics, athletes wanted local and state leaders to hear their voices that they wanted to get back to practice and competition and deal with the COVID-19 safety protocols and concerns.

“It’s time to let our kids play and play immediately,” said local event organizer Ryan Rebollar, the Brawley Youth Football president. “Our kids’ mental health, physical health and well-being is at stake.”

The “Let Them Play” Rally brought together athletes from many Imperial County high schools and a host of young athletes from a variety of youth sports on Friday, Jan. 15, as an estimated 130 coordinated rallies took place throughout the state that afternoon in an effort push state politicians and Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease the guidelines for youth sports to return to action.

“This rally is for the kids to let our local and state leaders know that this is enough,” Rebollar said about the state’s athletic shutdown due to COVID-19 concerns. “Athletics have happened in other states and on the college and professional level and we can do it safely as well.”

There have been no high school athletic competitions in California since schools went to at-home learning in mid-March. Coaches, parents, and athletes have formed travel, or club, teams that have been forced to leave the state for games where COVID guidelines are less stringent.

Central Union High School varsity football and baseball player Brian Martin, 17, speaks during the “Let Them Play” rally outside the Imperial County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 15. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Just across the border in Yuma, baseball and softball fields are kept busy almost every weekend with tournaments and teams traveling from California to play.

Five local high school football players spoke at the rally, including three from Central Union High and two from Brawley Union.

“I think we were able to get our message across that we want to get back out there and play,” said Brian Martin, a 17-year-old football and baseball player at Central. “I wanted to give a speech to show the emotional side of the athlete and demonstrate our brotherhood and how we want to play together again and fight together.”

High school sports were recently given direction as to when a return would be possible courtesy of a memo from CIF-San Diego Section. The earliest sports that could return to action are cross country and swimming on Feb. 1, if the county’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

As a senior, Martin has had to deal with his final football season getting pushed back numerous times. He said it doesn’t matter how far back it gets pushed, he’s still holding onto hope.

“You can’t lose hope. Our coaches tell us to keep positive and that’s what keeps me going,” Martin said. “I keep hoping and praying that I’ll be able to step on that football field one more time. I don’t need a full season or playoffs or any of that. Just one more time, even if it can only be the Bell Game. Just give me one more chance.”

CAMILO GARCIA JR. VIDEO
CAMILO GARCIA JR. VIDEO
CAMILO GARCIA JR. VIDEO
CAMILO GARCIA JR. VIDEO

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