Darin LaHood: Gov. JB Pritzker needs to let Illinois youth play
Darin LaHood's opinion letter to the Peoria Journal Star:
Over Labor Day weekend, I got to do my favorite thing as a dad — watch my youngest son play soccer with his local youth team.
Instead of playing in central Illinois, however, we traveled to Indianapolis to play in a youth soccer tournament. Like many others in the state, my sons will be traveling outside Illinois to participate in youth athletics this year to Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa this fall to play sports.
In July, Gov. Pritzker unveiled his restrictive, one-size-fits-all youth and high school sports mandate that postponed competitive fall play for football, soccer, volleyball and other sports. The broad-based restrictions caused significant confusion and left many parents with more questions than answers.
As our understanding of the novel coronavirus evolves, our response and restrictive measures must evolve as well. On Tuesday, Pritzker will again review his state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions. When he does, Illinois should ease or lift restrictions on youth and high school sports and let our kids play.
As a father of three boys who play sports year-round, I understand the integral role athletics plays in our children's education and mental and physical health. Youth and high school sports teach our children valuable life lessons that help them socially, keep them physically fit and improve their mental health. Our children, especially those starting at a new school, will miss out on the camaraderie of youth and high school athletics this fall and our youth sports organizations will face collapse. The value of youth sports is immeasurable, and the cost of not playing will be significant.
Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer granted Michigan high schools permission to resume fall football, soccer, swimming and volleyball with strict health guidelines, giving individual school districts the ability to elect to stage fall sports competitions now or in the spring.
Empowering individual school districts to collaborate with local health officials, doctors and parents to make these decisions is the right approach.
Our children and the educational institutions in Illinois are smart and resilient. Social distancing, masks and spectator restrictions should be put in place by local school districts to keep students safe, and they are willing to make these sacrifices.
No family should be put in a position where they believe that they are putting their loved ones' health at risk. Those who want to keep their kids out of school and off the athletic field should have the right to do so without consequence. But for those of us who are confident that it is safe for our kids to compete on the soccer field, football field, basketball court or volleyball court, we should be allowed to make that choice, too.
Illinois has let people eat at restaurants and hold protests in the streets to express their beliefs throughout the summer. But kids in the lowest risk group for COVID-19 can't play sports yet? There doesn't seem to be much science or common sense behind that.
Our kids want to participate in fall sports, and they can safely do so with the appropriate guidelines in place.
It's time to let them play.