‘Let us Play’: Local players and coaches head to Springfield for rally, hoping Governor allows fall sports

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) — Players, parents and coaches from all over Illinois gathered Saturday in Chicago and Springfield rallying for Governor J.B. Pritzker and other lawmakers to let student-athletes play and participate in fall sports and activities.

High school athletes and coaches took to the steps of the state capital Saturday afternoon coming from Peoria, Springfield and north of Interstate 80 pleading with the governor and local lawmakers to let them play. Peoria High School senior Darius Beckum was with his coaches and teammates.

“Let us play, let us practice, do activities, games all that. Just let us play,” Beckum said.

Due to COVID-19, the governor banned high exposure sports such as football because he says top health officials worry it’ll easily spread the virus. But, the over 500 rally-goers said the government needs to stay out of sports.

Jennifer Marit has a senior daughter on the Farmington Cheerleading team, she said her daughter wants to have a senior season.

“We should be the ones to decide, not the government,” Marit said.

This week, Governor Pritzker standing firm in his decision, telling reporters his job is to do what’s best for the over 800 school districts and the over 4,000 individual schools throughout the state.

“It’s a tough decision,” Pritzker said. “It’s important that I keep in mind how we can best keep our kids safe.”

Players and coaches say sports provide a place of comfort and not being able to play is taking a toll on their well-being. Darrell Crouch head football coach at Washington Community High School said he worries about the negative side-affects not having sports and activities is doing to his students.

“You worry a lot about depression, the psychology,” Crouch said. “It’s (sports) a huge thing for those kids.”

Crouch said activities, like sports gives kids from all different walks of life a place to make friends. Much like Saturday’s rally, he said sports brings everyone together regardless of who they are.

“You bind those kids together from all different backgrounds; socio-economic, race, creed, color, even sexual preference. Robbing kids of that experience is horrible,” Crouch said.

Marit said her daughter is sad without cheer and that she’s missing out on moments that only come once-in-a-lifetime.

“She’s not getting that last opportunity to meet goals that she set for herself and who knows how that’ll impact her and the rest of the team for the rest of their life,” Marit said.

Beckum a senior said he doesn’t have any scholarship offers yet and without a season, he fears he’ll miss out on opportunities to impress college scouts.

“This is my last shot at getting any offers, so it’s actually really hard,” Beckum said.

Coaches and parents are asking the government to trust them, while listening to statistics, pointing out Illinois has a lower positivity rate than many other neighboring states.

“You know that if it was going bad in one of the neighboring states and they had to close a school, that would be national news, or if they had to shutdown a program, you haven’t heard anything like that,” Crouch said. “So just listen to it again, and just let parents make an informed choice, athletes make an informed choice.”

Crouch said he wants Governor Pritzker and other Illinois lawmakers to know they will keep up with temperature checks, social distancing and mask wearing as much as possible.

“Coaches, we treat our kids like our own, we are going to take care of them just like I did when my son came through our program,” Crouch said.

The crowd acknowledged and gave kudos to the governor for making decisions that got the state’s positivity rate among the best in the nation, but Jennifer Marit said it’s time to get back to a sense of normalcy.

“This virus isn’t going anywhere, it’s always going be around,” Marit said. “I feel we’re being forced to hide from life and not live life.”

Marit, Beckum and Crouch along with hundreds of others hope the lawmakers and Governor Pritzker see Saturday’s rallies and work with other states; such as Missouri and Iowa who are allowing fall sports, and find a safe solution for Illinois.

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