Let's open up Lawrence Parks & Gyms to Youth-Serving Groups & Adopt a Safe Return Plan

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Since March 2020, the Lawrence youth sports community has been shut down. Sports leaders have been patient, supportive, and understanding, finding new ways to advocate for youth and families in "high-risk" Lawrence. However, now more than 12 months later, which for a 6-year-old represents almost 17% of his/her entire life, it's time to start playing safely again! #BringBackSafeSports

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Lawrence's youth sports organizations provide athletic, recreational, and youth development programming that contributes to kids' social-emotional well-being, physical and mental health. Sports and recreation keep young people engaged, focused, and increase academic performance. Unfortunately, without sports, too many youth have lost interest in school, especially high school students who count on those team experiences to keep them motivated and focused. Did you know that Lawrence student-athletes graduate at almost 20% higher rates than their peers? Without sports, more young people are unmotivated and sedentary. The Aspen Sports Institute also reported that most youth spent 6+ hours less per week participating in sports since the pandemic. 

Sadly, despite all of this, and the fact that youth sports are meeting community needs in almost every other Massachusetts city and town, youth sports leaders in Lawrence can't obtain field or court permits or get any time frames for re-opening so they can contribute to a proactive, smart, safe return plan. Today, Lawrence tennis courts remain locked, basketball hoops removed, fields gated up, and cement blocks on baseball diamonds, which means this young baseball player (pictured here), won't swing a bat this spring, missing another critical opportunity for connection and mentorship. The Lawrence Sports Alliance and its 16 city sports organization members are ready to step up for the community by providing safe, affordable, accessible, and inclusive play. Our kids' mental and physical health cannot be sidelined another season. 

Families are desperately searching for safe play opportunities. They are frustrated that restaurants, barbershops, and nail salons are open, while their kids have been cooped up for one year, and so many without access to backyards or play spaces for regular exercise. They depend so much on our low-cost sports programs for that activity. Many are worried that a connection to sports, recreational and physical activity may be lost forever for some children. This data is corroborated by the financial crisis of 2008 when team sport participation for 6-12 year-olds dropped from 45% to 38% and has remained at that level since (Aspen Sports Institute). This rate is expected to be even lower in communities like Lawrence as more families struggle to meet their basic needs. Let's make sure that youth sports continue to be a need that is met through safe, quality, and affordable outlets. 

With permits, the Sports Alliance and its dedicated youth sports organizations can ensure the safe use of Lawrence's fields in a fashion that can be monitored and restricted to adhere to city, state, and CDC guidelines. Our groups can support effective contract tracing and create city-approved safety protocols to ensure our youth's health and well-being are front and center. By withholding field permits from our programs, the city is forcing its children, youth, and parents to choose between having no access to recreation or sports or playing on their own in situations that may be crowded and less safe.

As a result, we urge the City of Lawrence and Mayor Vasquez to provide field permits to Lawrence's youth sports organizations immediately. With the warmer months approaching, plus thousands of residents getting vaccinated, including youth sports coaches, it's time to get young people off the sidelines!