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Rally held in hopes of restoring tackle football for Carroll County rec leagues: ‘We just want the sport back’

Patrick Flatley came prepared to Wednesday’s rally in front of the Carroll County government building in Westminster.

Patrick, 11, plays football for the Westminster Wildcats youth program. But three weeks ago his sports life was altered when Carroll County recreation councils were prohibited from offering tackle football programs because of the risk it poses to spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. So he joined many of his Wildcats teammates, along with their families and some people from other county youth organizations, to demonstrate how they feel about the decision.

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Patrick had a speech in hand, delivering his remarks to the crowd of close to 200 people that attended the “Let Us Play” rally. He wasn’t the only speaker, but the message seemed to be in unison ― the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheerleading (CCYFCL) community doesn’t think it should have to compete under modified flag football rules in the fall.

“We just want tackle back,” Patrick said Thursday. “We don’t care what we have to wear, what we have to do. We just want the sport back.”

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Competition in tackle football, basketball, and wrestling is currently not allowed among county rec councils because those high-contact sports are deemed high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Practices are still allowed, provided that everyone involved is adhering to social distance and safety guidelines.

But football parents and players are wondering why some activities, such as kayaking and canoeing, are deemed high risk by the Maryland Sports Commission in the same way as tackle football, while local parks and places with water are still being utilized.

“It just doesn’t make sense, the transparency,” said Amanda Cunningham, a mother of two youth football players. “It seems like they keep moving the goalposts every week. We need clear, crisp guidelines. And I think we deserve an answer, and our kids deserve an answer, on why.”

Carroll County’s departments of health and recreation and parks made the ruling Aug. 6. Practice in these sports were permitted, and the decision did not not affect travel teams that aren’t affiliated with local rec councils.

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Flag football was recommended to replace tackle amid the pandemic.

Anne Arundel County’s recreation and parks department this week canceled its youth tackle football season because it was deemed high risk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cunningham, who lives in Westminster, said the CCYFCL had already modified its rules for tackle before the county’s decision. Players were given face shields to go inside helmets, Cunningham said, and they were to wear masks at all times when helmets weren’t on.

Temperature checks were taken since the start of practices in late June, she said. Pads and equipment were sanitized as well.

“The coaches and the organizations have been busting their butts from Day One to make sure these kids are safe,” Cunningham said. “We have had zero cases of COVID. We are still practicing and we’re still around each other. ... The concept of flag compared to tackle is actually not as safe, and it’s still not socially distant. So that’s what I’m not understanding, why it’s being axed when we actually are doing a safer play with tackle that we couldn’t even do with flag.”

Ed Singer, the county’s public health officer, presented some of the county’s latest COVID-19 data to Carroll County’s commissioners Thursday morning.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked Singer if tackle football could return this year, provided that the number of new community cases remained low enough to be considered safe.

Frazier also asked if the commissioners might be able to vote on that issue in the future, and Singer said there is no blanket prohibition on any type of sports. Singer pointed to the CDC guidelines, among others, on different sports and their risk levels.

Patrick Flatley, a member of the 12-U Westminster Wildcats, speaks in favor of playing tackle football, during a rally organzied by members of the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheerleading League, by the government building in Westminster on Wednesday, August 26.
Patrick Flatley, a member of the 12-U Westminster Wildcats, speaks in favor of playing tackle football, during a rally organzied by members of the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheerleading League, by the government building in Westminster on Wednesday, August 26. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

“All those things point to not being able to have high-risk sports while we’re in Phase 2,” Singer said during the meeting, referring to the current stage of Maryland’s reopening plan. “So my recommendation to you guys is that we don’t go with high-risk sports until we move out of Phase 2 as declared by [Gov. Larry Hogan]. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t decide that you wanted to do something different.”

Singer also said there have been three instances in which contact tracing efforts — in which health officials try to reach people who might have had contact with an individual who tests positive — reached youth rec teams. In which case, he said, “we’ve had to ask the youth and families of those specific sports teams that were impacted to quarantine.”

Rachel Flatley, who lives in Sykesville, said she was a proud mom watching Patrick speak to such a hot topic and in front a large crowd Wednesday.

“To see all the kids out there and in their uniform, that’s just a beautiful thing,” she said. “I think that was just a learning experience in democracy.”

Cunningham created a petition that had garnered about 1,500 signatures in support of bringing back tackle football as of Thursday evening, and Wednesday’s rally drew the attention of at least a couple of elected officials.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, and Carroll County Del. Haven Shoemaker attended the event. And Bouchat praised the demonstrators during Thursday’s meeting.

“The kids actually gave speeches and talked about how wonderful sports are in developing their character and their competition,” he said. “I was just so impressed with these kids standing up giving a speech. The courage it took for these kids to stand and state how much they appreciate and value the sports program really impressed me. ... It warms my heart to know that these kids are going to be our future.”

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