NorCal Student Athletes Have Spent Much Of A Tumultuous 2020 Stuck In Their Homes, Feeling Frustrated And Following The News Closer Than Ever Before — Now Some Get To Cast A Vote In A Critical Election •
It was close to two years ago when Dorian Sanchez first registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles on the day he received his driver’s permit.
“They asked me if I wanted to register and I realized I’d be eligible for the next presidential election,” said Sanchez, now a Dublin High senior who plays basketball and runs track. “I thought that it would be super cool.”
A lot has transpired since then.
Sanchez will turn 18 on Nov. 2 — the day before one of the largest and momentous presidential elections in history.
It’s safe to say that Sanchez values his opportunity now even more than he thought he would back on that day at the DMV.
“Honestly, I love it,” he said. “I’ve had to watch decisions be made while thinking, ‘Oh my God!’ But now I can be part of that decision-making, and not just at the presidential level but on down to the city level, too.”
Maxwell Weaver knows about watching those decisions also.
Last March as COVID-19 began its assault on America, he and his Campolindo-Moraga basketball teammates had to cope with a decision that led to the cancellation of the CIF Div. I State Championship game they were scheduled to play in. Then he and those teammates — and nearly every other young athlete in California — spent the next several months without sports at all.
“Suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands,” Weaver said. “I began paying a lot more attention to the news. I started reading New York Times and Washington Post articles, and began getting a feel for just how polarized our nation had become. It really made me take interest in some different things.”
Weaver’s path to collegiate sports is likely through football. The receiver and defensive back already holds one offer from Davidson College. He now says he hopes to study political science at whatever campus he eventually lands on.
Student athletes, and young voters in general, definitely found the time to pay attention during their months of quarantine. And they have some questions.
“The questions I’m getting in class are just crazy,” said Moreau Catholic boys basketball coach Frank Knight, who also teaches government on campus. “Stuff like ‘How many presidents have served longer than eight years?’ Or ‘What happened to Nixon?’ Or ‘What’s going on with the Supreme Court?’
“They’re asking questions they NEVER used to care about.”
According to an Oct. 28 story in the L.A. Times, early voting data from across the nation had shown that more than 6.8 million people from the 18 to 29 age group have already cast ballots for this election. That was nearly 2.5 times more than were cast at the same point in the 2016 presidential election.
“I’ve taught government for 20 years,” Knight said. “Every year, the first thing I do with a class is to try and get them registered. Typically I get the resigned answer of ‘OK, Coach. I’ll do it for the four points.’
“This year it’s different. They’re all emailing me their registration confirmations. I think a lot of it is social media-driven and also seeing NBA players and other athletes speak out about using their voice. But I think it’s also because we have nothing to do. For student athletes, if there were sports for them right now, a lot of this stuff would make noise but then move on. Now, it’s tough.”
Like Weaver, Archbishop Mitty-San Jose senior Olivia Williams also missed out on a chance to play for a state basketball title last March. But unlike Weaver, the UC Irvine-committed wing can’t vote in this election. She doesn’t turn 18 until January.
But that hasn’t stopped her from using her voice.
Williams took part in a handful of Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
“I think for me personally over the last nine months, I’ve realized how important your voice really is,” Williams said. “I’d been interested in social justice and advocacy before, but didn’t realize how valuable my voice was. I want young student athlete voters to know what our voice can do for our generation, but also the impact it can leave for the next generation after us.”
Mahda Fallay plays wing for Knight’s Moreau Catholic team. Like Williams, he won’t be old enough to vote but has actively sought to make sure others in his immediate circle were registered.
“I’m just making sure that I’m talking to everyone who’s eligible to vote,” Fallay said. “Family, friends, neighbors. I want to make sure their voices can be heard.”
And just what’s the messaging he’s using when urging these people to vote? It’s the same he would share with anyone who is eligible to cast a ballot.
“My message would be don’t vote because people are telling you to vote,” he said. “Do your research. Learn candidates policies and be informed. And then let YOUR voice be heard, not someone else’s”
Concord High cheerleader Hope Baker was excited to use her voice, until she was told she couldn’t. “It was definitely upsetting,” Baker said, recalling when her mom told her she’d missed the registration deadline.
Baker has since learned of conditional voting registration, which allows individuals who missed the deadline to register and vote in-person at early voting sites and Election Day poll sites.
“I definitely have a broader outlook now,” she said. “I know it’s going to feel good to have a say. Even if I’m just one vote.”
Malia Mastora was another one of those athletes who found herself becoming much more informed during quarantine life. The 2020 St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda graduate came from a family that stressed the importance of voting, but time at home without basketball brought about a revelation.
“It became more apparent than ever that the leadership in our country can directly affect everyone,” said Mastora, who now attends and hoops for Seattle Pacific University. “I think overall everyone in this country has been affected somehow over the last nine months.
“Seeing that direct affect made me think, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I was already educating myself beforehand but now I wanted to take a deeper look.”
Mastora cast her ballot by mail and admitted that she was quite thorough.
“I spent a whole day,” she said with a touch of nervous laughter. “After I’d done all of my studying, I filled it all out and thought ‘Whew! That was a lot.’ But I did feel really accomplished.
“I knew I’d done something meaningful that day.”