High school athletes in fall and winter sports such as football, girls' volleyball, cross-country, basketball and soccer have a decision to make. Either get vaccinated or they won't be allowed to play on teams.
North Hills Monroe cross-country coach Leo Hernandez said he plans to make one final attempt this weekend to convince parents and students on the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Otherwise, his team could be losing at least three members because of a Los Angeles Unified School District mandate requiring athletes ages 12 and up to have received their first vaccine dose by Oct. 3 and to be fully vaccinated no later than Oct. 31.
"This weekend, I'm calling the parents," Hernandez said. "I'm telling them, 'You're going to have to get it eventually. Some employer is going to mandate it. If you go to college, you have to get it. So now you're going to throw away four years of running?'"
Hernandez said parents of two students are balking at vaccinating their children and one student is declining to be vaccinated.
A district-wide mandate requiring all students to be vaccinated by Jan. 10 could result in others either leaving the district or turning to online-only classes with no extracurricular activities. There could be a delay in enforcing the vaccination requirement until Oct. 31 for those who are at least 18 because they qualify to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It remains to be seen who's going to tell coaches to remove athletes who are not vaccinated from teams. The district's COVID response team could ending up informing school administrators.
Whenever it happens, it's clear there will be a group of athletes no longer permitted on LAUSD teams. And teams in various sports have been trying to improve participation numbers after having to rebuild programs following the shutdown of sports starting in March 2020.
John Ralles, the cross-country coach at Van Nuys Grant, said he's concerned about losing several runners on a team that barely has enough to compete.
"It's not that the parents don't want their kids to participate," he said. "It's just that their beliefs outweigh the desire to have kids in sports."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.