This past week was to have been the first big week of fall high school sports. Tennis, volleyball, boys’ soccer, football — they exist now only on calendars rendered worthless by the coronavirus.
The courts, the fields, the tracks — they’ve all been devoid of meaningful activity since March 14. The grass has had plenty of time to grow on the gridiron, and the gym floors shine with wax unscuffed by a sneaker’s sudden stop.
But that doesn’t mean it has to keep going that way as the school year wobbles forward in haphazard fashion, everyone uncertain from day to day whether a COVID-19 outbreak will empty the hallways, either in the short or long run.
Student athletics are on “pause” these next few weeks — everyone’s getting time to adjust to new routines and new rules — but sports are largely still in the plan for this coming year, albeit a bit later than normal.
With the recent action of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, we have some clearer insight into the year ahead for the young men and women for whom athletics is an important part of school.
Indeed, even for students who will never suit up, school spirit and pride in the accomplishments of their school’s teams are an integral part of school identity.
A Big Adjustment
Rather than simply shrug their shoulders and say sports would be too burdensome to execute this year, the NCHSAA has put forward a sensible plan, based on science and the kids’ best interests. Each sport is still on the books to compete, though not all at traditional times or lengths.
“While there are risks with resuming NCHSAA-sanctioned athletics, it has also become very clear that there are significant negative consequences with not providing this option to student-athletes,” said Josh Bloom, a sports medicine physician and member of the association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
“While the consequences of not participating may be more difficult to quantify than the risks of a COVID-19 infection, we must recognize and acknowledge that these consequences of not participating are real and they are grave. With this in mind, we feel it is crucial to provide some good news for out student-athletes in the form of a plan for NCHSAA member schools to resume athletics.”
So that’s exactly what’s going to happen — for now. Cross-country and volleyball will lead off with seasons beginning Nov. 16. While some sports like basketball and baseball will be played close to normal in their usual seasonal slots, others won’t. Football won’t see it’s first contest until Feb. 26. Wrestling won’t begin until April 26. Unspoken but hoped: Perhaps a COVID-19 vaccine will be available before then.
‘Careful and Calculated’
Everyone acknowledges that, unlike the NBA or NHL, high schools can’t exist in a protective “bubble.” Life is all around us, which means exposure to the super-infectious coronavirus remains high.
Colleges, whose students returned earlier this month, may very well be harbingers of what’s to come for our high schools — but maybe not. Our high schools are taking far greater precautions to lower risk levels, precautions most colleges can’t implement.
“Our decision-making process has been careful and calculated,” Association Commissioner Que Tucker said, “as we work to ensure the health and safety of all student-athletes, coaches and administrators during this unprecedented time.’
Indeed, our local school athletics directors have put their heads together and come up with strong plans that afford student athletes the ability to condition themselves, practice their skills and prepare for seasons. These plans are responsible, safe and ensure adherence to the rules.
To ensure our kids can salvage a season, we expect no less.