The Debate Over Youth Sports Heats Up in St. Louis

Photo source: STL County Sports Families Against Youth Sports Mandate/Facebook

Last week, the debate over youth sports reached the courthouse in St. Louis. A lawsuit was filed against County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis County. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the restrictions on certain youth sports.

Under the City of St. Louis Youth Sports Guidelines, high and moderate-frequency contact sports–including football, basketball, baseball, ice-hockey, cheerleading, wrestling, soccer, and volleyball among others– may practice with some restrictions, but may not compete in games. The Guidelines, which went into effect on September 11, have sparked protests in the community. Over the past week, hundreds have gathered in front of Page’s home to voice their outrage with the restrictions. A Facebook group called “STL County Sports Families Against Youth Sports Mandate” has nearly 13,000 members.

Among those outraged with the restrictions is Paul Berry, III. Berry, who is Page’s opponent in the upcoming November election, is also the plaintiff in the suit filed last week. Berry is suing on behalf of himself and his unnamed child, who is a high school athlete.

The suit alleges that the Governor’s executive order declaring a state of emergency does not give Page the authority to interfere with youth athletics. Berry also argues that the restrictions adversely affect all youth athletes, but especially youth athletes of color, as they attempt to “navigate the colligate recruiting and financial aid aspects of college admission.” Finally, the lawsuit echoes what many of the protestors have been stating, that the Guidelines are not supported by scientific or medical evidence as they are purported to be.

No answer has been filed yet. However, the day after the suit was filed, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health announced that it has documented five clusters of Covid-19 transmitted “among student-athletes linked directly to sports practices or games.” This does not bode well for Berry’s argument that the Guidelines are not supported by medical evidence.

As for the claim that student athletes are adversely affected by having their chances of receiving a college scholarship reduced, courts have entertained this argument in the past (here is a link to a post discussing the constitutional right to play high school sports). In short, courts have indicated that the deprivation of a previously granted scholarship may invoke due process protections.

It will be interesting to see if the County’s Guidelines survive this most recent attack. A bill aimed at limiting the County Executives power in a state of emergency was killed last week. While this lawsuit seems to be politically motivated, the frustration is real for student athletes and their parents.

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