The Maine Principals’ Association, Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that it is important for student-athletes to have an outlet in the sports they love.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was determined that football and volleyball were just too risky to play this fall. They were pushed to the spring.
Nobody is wrong here. We have never had to deal with such a deadly virus in our lifetime and there doesn’t appear to have been much medical headway over the last six months.
Everyone involved is trying to protect the athletes from contracting the coronavirus and spreading it to friends, fellow students and family members, particularly elderly and other high-risk individuals.
Football is a tough call, since the virus is spread by droplets from the nose and mouth. Just think about those fall Friday night football and soccer games where you can see players’ collective breath in the crisp air.
Many players are competing face to face, hand to hand, with opponents on every play.
Volleyball is an indoor sport, which adds to the potential danger. There often are three or four girls converging at the net or going after the ball.
It wouldn’t be as dangerous if they were wearing masks but it is still a major concern.
That said, the importance of sports in a student-athlete’s life can’t be underestimated. For many, practice is the highlight of their day.
Sports keep students motivated in school because to play, they must maintain solid grades. It keeps the athletes grounded and teaches them time management.
And sports teach life lessons, including how to handle adversity and how to bond with teammates and work together toward a common goal. Some athletes don’t have an ideal home life, so sports are an important escape and provide them a supportive extended family.
Maine high school football players are watching ESPN showcase high school football games pitting teams from states with a much higher rate of COVID-19 cases than we have here. Over 30 states are playing in the fall.
They are asking, if they can play, why can’t we? Completely understandable.
But Texas Tech University had 75 cases of COVID-19 among its 123 players. Ed Orgeron, the coach of defending national champion Louisiana State University, recently said most of his players had contracted the virus.
The bottom line is, until we have a vaccine or a cure, everyone on the field — at school, at home or in the community — is still in danger.
Soccer, field hockey, golf and cross country are being played in Maine this fall. Golf is the most viable social distancing sport and there are plans for rule changes to help keep cross country, soccer and field hockey players safer.
Still, there are risks.
I like the idea of teams playing 7-on-7 touch or flag football. One plan even will open the door for linemen to split playing time with backs and receivers so everyone can throw or catch the ball.
Why not give the linemen a chance to run a pass pattern? It will keep the players motivated and they can have some fun with it.
I agree with Maine Central Institute football coach Tom Bertrand, who said since there won’t be a football season this fall, it is of the utmost importance for the MPA and the state to do everything they can to have a season in the spring.
By then, we will all have a better gauge on the impact of the coronavirus on high school sports.
There is talk of playing volleyball and football in the early part of next year and pushing back the regular spring sports so athletes who play football and volleyball can also play their chosen spring sport.
It makes sense and would give baseball, softball, lacrosse and track and field athletes a chance to compete in warmer weather. Those raw early spring days are challenging.
Iowa’s 2020 high school baseball state championships games were played on Aug. 1.
There are some concerns about getting fields ready, especially if we have a long, snowy winter with a late March snowstorm, but they won’t be playing many games so it is doable.
So as the powers that be try to figure out a safe way to keep athletes competing, they’re not wrong in treating some potentially more dangerous sports differently to contend with COVID-19.