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Thousands sign Taos physician’s “LET OUR KIDS PLAY” petition

It is a plea. An urgent request. Perhaps, even a creative way to vent.

And nearly 5,500 New Mexicans apparently agree with it.

The “it” is a petition on change.org, begun by a Taos doctor — the mother of a Taos High School soccer athlete — and created to find the eyes of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“Let them play outdoor sports, which have proven to be safe,” says the petition author, Dr. Caroline Colonna, writing to the governor. “LET OUR KIDS PLAY.”

In some form or another, this message has been at the forefront of a discussion among thousands of parents and athletes in New Mexico during this most upsetting of summers.

Caroline Colonna, Taos physician

Two outdoor sports, cross country and golf, are scheduled to go forward this fall, starting Oct. 5. The two other outdoor fall sports, football and soccer, remain shuttered for the remainder of 2020 — much to the continued chagrin of many New Mexicans, including Colonna, who feel these restrictions are stifling athletes emotionally and mentally.

“Let them play outdoors and watch them thrive!” said one man who signed Colonna’s petition. She hopes to reach 7,500 signatures.

During her weekly press briefing Thursday, the governor hinted that some updates and/or changes may be on the horizon, possibly as soon as next week.

“We think that there’s an opportunity to again review some of the youth sports and training for some of our kiddos around the state, so look to see where we go with that,” Lujan Grisham said.

She later added, “We’ve gotten a lot of information about what we might do with some youth sports and training. So, I’m interested in having the (Medical Advisory Team) give me their recommendation next week.”

The governor’s current health order extends to Oct. 2.

Predictably, responses to Colonna’s petition have been passionate.

“As a parent of a athlete my daughter has the right to play our family knows the risk and the precautins to take I feel it is our choice,” wrote the mother of an athlete.

The petition was never ceated solely to address soccer or the situation involving her own child, Colonna said.

“As a parent, but also as a doctor, I felt like I needed to voice the idea that these kids, being stuck at home, being stuck at their computer all day, really needed to get outside and practice their high school sports,” she said in an interview.

Schools around the state do have the option of having athletes practice in other outdoor sports, like baseball, softball, tennis and track and field.

Colonna said her petition was geared, at the start, toward prep athletes, but later she amended it to cover all youth sports, like club sports.

The restriction from Santa Fe on contact sports practicing is frustrating, Colonna said.

“My question is, based on what?” she said. “The kids are gonna play anyway, and they’re not gonna do it safely. They’re not gonna wear masks, they’re not gonna social distance. They’re kids.”

As of this writing, all high school athletes participating in fall sports are going to have to wear masks even as they compete. The first competitions cannot begin before Oct. 10.

“From my perspective, this virus is not dangerous for this part of the population,” Colonna said. “And we live in an area where we can’t compare ourselves to cities with high numbers of cases.”

As with so many parents and athletes, Colonna said she is frustrated that the governor’s office won’t loosen the participation standards, believing that outdoor sports can proceed safely.

“We feel that the mental health benefits of playing sports far outweighs the small chance our child could contract COVID-19 in an outdoors environment,” Colonna’s petition says.

Lujan Grisham has remained firm from the start of the coronavirus pandemic about legislating the deliberate speed in which high school athletics returns.

“Outdoor sports with the correct safety measures will not put our kids at risk and the mental health and social benefits are too big to ignore,” wrote one of the petition signees.

Most of the state’s high school calendar, including football and soccer, will be played from January through late June of 2021.

Grass-roots efforts in Colorado, some believe, led Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to announce on Tuesday that he would allow his state to have a consolidated football season this fall rather than do it next spring.

But the Colorado High School Activities Association decided to keep it where it is, next spring, where it was moved in early August. A “Let Them Play” in Colorado petition was signed by nearly 14,000 people. As in New Mexico with Lujan Grisham and in other states, Polis has faced a significant social media campaign pressing him to open things up.

Michigan recently reversed course, allowing prep football this fall after originally moving it to the spring.

“What I hate to see is kids being affected … in a negative way,” said Colonna, citing depression, anxiety and suicide as tangible fallout. To that end, the New Mexico Activities Association recently announced a mental health awareness initiative, including a hotline (1-855-662-7474) for students.

“Putting politics ahead of the future of our kids is harming society at large and it’s looking at the short term instead of the long term,” Colonna said. She said she believed the governor has read her petition.

“I have two teenage boys that need to get outside, be active, and do what they love,” one parent wrote to Lujan Grisham in the petition. “They need to boys. They are only young once. Don’t take that away from them.”

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