LOS ANGELES — Horace and Shelby McCoy have never missed one of their son's games. Wherever football took Bru McCoy over the years, they dutifully followed — driving, flying, adjusting their schedules however necessary. Anything to support their son from the stands.
After a dizzying transfer saga and a mysterious illness put his college debut on a year-long pause, that support felt even more important ahead of this season. But as Bru prepares to make his long-awaited USC debut on Nov. 7, the McCoys, for the first time, may not be there to see it.
In Los Angeles County, where USC and UCLA play, fans of any kind are still barred by local health guidelines from attending football games. That includes the McCoys and other families of USC and UCLA players, many of whom signed an online petition this week to express their dismay and implore local and state officials to consider an exemption to allow families to attend.
"We're just dying to see that first time when he runs out of the tunnel," Shelby McCoy said. "It's like climbing a mountain, and then you get to the top, and you can't look. As a mom, I just want to be there so bad."
The conference won't stand in the way of that reunion. The Pac-12 CEO Group, which previously voted not to allow fans at games, already approved an exemption for families to attend last month. But that exemption is subject to approval by local health authorities, and in Los Angeles, where the rate of COVID-19 cases is rising, convincing officials who were initially adamant about empty stadiums could prove to be an uphill climb.
USC and UCLA have worked together nonetheless in an attempt to convince county officials, according to a person familiar with the schools' efforts. Those discussions are still ongoing three weeks out from the start of their pandemic-shortened seasons.
"It's not a Pac-12 decision, it's not a USC decision," USC coach Clay Helton said Thursday. "And the city and the state have done what's best for the community. So hopefully it will change. I'm a parent. I've got a son that's in high school. I would love to see him play as long as it's safe and the environment's safe."
Chip Kelly, UCLA's coach, offered similar support.
"I'm all for the parents and families to be a part of this process and to be a part of seeing their kids play," Kelly said. "That's what this thing is all about."
But as the season draws near, many families at USC and UCLA are frustrated that local officials won't even consider plans to safely allow them into vast stadiums of 80,000-plus empty seats, where safe social distancing, in their minds, seems entirely achievable.
"We understand the situation, that we're very fortunate to even be playing considering what's happened in L.A. and the community spread problem," Horace McCoy said. "But I don't think it's too much to ask for their parents to be there to support their kids, man. I really don't."
Those frustrations came to a head earlier this week in a group chat between mothers of USC players. As they discussed possible action, one suggested starting a petition to push the conversation along.
That petition quickly took shape and, as of Friday afternoon, had more than 3,600 signatures. Sahaja Douglass — whose son, Liam, is a Trojans offensive lineman — wrote that safety precautions in large, open-air stadiums would be "easily accomplished" and that the presence of their families was "important for the emotional health of Pac-12 players."
"They've been on an emotional, stressful roller coaster these last six months," said Scott Rodriguez, whose son, Jason, is a USC offensive tackle. "These kids need our support."
Even during a season unaffected by a pandemic, opportunities for players to see their families are often limited. With players largely locked down on their respective campuses, those family moments are even harder to manufacture.
Over his previous two seasons at UCLA, Melva Thompson-Robinson would often only see her son, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, after games.
"Sometimes, that's only 10 or 15 minutes because Dorian's got interviews and treatment or whatever after, so it's not like there's a whole bunch of time when you're away," Thompson-Robinson said. "Like at Oklahoma, I'm looking down at him in the loading dock and talking to him. So you cherish those little moments."
Those moments, like so many others, could be upended by the virus this season. But as parents consider a fall without watching their sons from the stands, the McCoys and others are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them intact.
"We've thought of a million different ways to make it safe," Shelby McCoy said. "Everyone could have their time to get there, so you're never bottle-necked. Take our temperatures. We'll all keep our masks on.
"We'll do whatever we can, just to get inside that stadium."
(Staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.)
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