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Parents push for return to contact, competition for youth football, cheer teams in Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. — Some youth football and cheerleading parents are asking Hillsborough County officials to return their sports to full competition.

Youth sports in Hillsborough County are open only for practice and conditioning. For youth football and cheerleading teams, it means non-contact conditioning.

“We really don’t even want this to be a crazy political thing. We just want our kids to play and we want the county to know we’re all gonna do the right thing. They just need to give us the choice to do so,” said Hope Kennedy, the secretary for the North Tampa Titans, a member of the Tri-County Youth Football and Cheerleading Conference.

“We’re following our guidelines, we have COVID waivers. We want families to have a choice to allow their kids to play and it’s just disappointing for them not to have a choice,” said Charlene Linscott, a parent with the Brandon Broncos.

The parents said they’re planning to rally potentially over the weekend in their individual fields.

“I mean, they need the love, they need the support, they need the mentorship that our coaches and all the parents provide to each other’s kids out here. It’s a family. These organizations aren’t just a group of people out trying to win a trophy,” said Kennedy.

The county said it’s working on plans to bring back competition for different sports, first looking at baseball and softball. Football is further down the line.

“I understand the passion and I understand everyone’s urgency to get back to some kind of normalcy. We are excited just to finally have the talk of getting kids back on the field and getting back to some form of competition,” said Rick Valdez, the director of the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department. “We hope to have that discussion about football really soon. When we met with our health advisers just a couple weeks ago they weren’t ready to have that conversation yet and therefore we have to respect that and we look at revisiting that idea in later September.”

Valdez said it’s about the nature of the sport.

“When we talk about a return to competition. Baseball is more on the moderate risk side. Soccer, lacrosse are somewhere in the middle and football is most riskiest because of the nature of the sport because of the tackling and the kids going head on every play,” he said. “Really that’s all it is and we’re looking for every opportunity to get the kids back out there as soon as they can.”

He said they’re looking at it from a “total community aspect.”

“There’s been a lot of change here recently with the announcement of school coming back. The announcement of high school sports coming back and I understand that people see that and they say, ‘Well, you know well everything else is coming back. Why can’t we get back to youth tackle football and we really want to get back to youth tackle football?’” Valdez said. “And when our health experts look at it from a community standpoint, they have to take these new things that are being introduced into the community into consideration.”

Some parents believe they can return football and cheerleading to contact and competition safely.

“The actual contact on a play is 15-20 seconds maybe then they break and they’re apart,” Kennedy said. “It feels like football’s being singled out of the other sports and it’s really not any more dangerous than the others.”

“Allow us to open up and at least allow maybe face masks for the cheerleaders so they can stunt and I do think the boys can tackle and they’re gonna be in their groups. We’re doing temperature checks, we’re allowing these kids to play together and we’re keeping that safety protocol,” said Linscott.

While competition is not yet allowed, Valdez said they’re looking at allowing the sale of pre-packaged, single-serving items, recognizing youth organizations are struggling to generate revenue.

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