Future of high school sports, impact of COVID-19 pandemic: 'Mental health is sliding'

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- The future of high school sports has been in question for many coaches and players amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the lockdown in March 2020, high school games were put on hold. Several rallies supporting high school sports to resume took place Friday in the Bay Area and across California.

Sioel Helu, a senior lineman at Junipero Serra High School, has not played football since last March. He said the lockdown has impacted mental health.

"I know there definitely been a lot of mental health struggles," he said in an interview with ABC7's Kristen Sze. "A lot of people staying, you know indoors, locked up, you don't feel connected. You know, I know, going to Serra (High School) a big part of football team is the community. You know the brotherhood you get with your teammates. Trying to still stay engage through brothers over Zoom calls, playing video games if you can. It's really been a struggle."

ABC7 Medical contributor Dr. Alok Patel agrees on the impact on mental health.

"Anyone who is paying attention to data right now. And looking at children's welfare and what's happening with the past year would say yes, this has a huge effect on children's mental health. We're seeing this not only from children being kept home from schools, but also from a lack of interaction, being with their friends, and living normal athletic lives."

RELATED: East Bay parents, students rally for high school sports to resume amid pandemic

Patrick Walsh is the head football coach at Junipero Serra High School. He wants to present data to state officials that youth sports should resume.

"My position is simple. We've collected data that we want to present to Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health. That would hopefully eradicate and eliminate the tier system that the youth sports is tied to," he said.

"Right now, the timeline for youth sports being tied to the system is not going to get the three million kids that are sitting on the bench off the bench in time to have rewarding experiences playing sports. And mental health is sliding. It's getting tough on the ground here."

Dr. Patel says safety in high school sports should be looked into.

RELATED: COVID-19 impact: Bay Area high school, club sports can practice, but still no closer to games

"I think it's really important that we take a step back. We listen to teams coaches, we look to see what protective measures are being done, what they're doing to keep their kids safe and we look at this on a case by case basis."

Another impact to high school athletes is potentially missing out on college scholarships.

"I know a lot of guys out there end up getting some pretty, pretty good offers for senior years (in general) and kind of missing out on that," said Helu.

Note: Helu and Walsh were not a part of the "Let Them Play" rallies that took place on Friday.

You can watch the entire interview in the media player above. "Getting Answers" airs Monday through Friday at 3p.m. on ABC7.

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