MCPS should allow in-person fall sports practices for the remainder of the first semester
It has been 203 days since MCPS closed schools in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. A two-week break turned into months, and students and staff adapted to their virtual lifestyles as best they could. In addition to our shared feelings of isolation and longing for a return to pre-pandemic life, many high school students are coping with the added burden of losing their fall sports season. It was predictable that MCPS would keep fall sports virtual, but the reality is that once-a-week Zoom meetings don't feel quite the same as practicing everyday afterschool with teammates.
The balance between the safety of our community and the desire to return to in-person sports is tenuous. Paul MacNairn, a senior captain for Blair's cross country team, acknowledges that MCPS is facing a difficult choice in deciding how to start fall sports since each one carries its own risk. "Cross country is probably one of the sports that are the least risky to do, but at the same time MCPS can't just allow one sport to come back and not the others," he said.
It is imperative that our county finds a happy medium regarding fall sports during the first semester, which will end on January 29. MCPS should allow in-person conditioning and skills-based training for all fall sports during the first semester as long as student-athletes are following county guidelines established to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This will help high school athletes to prepare for their competitive seasons during the second semester while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, promoting better mental health for students, and leveling the playing field for disadvantaged students.
When it comes to student safety, there is no higher priority for the county. That is why coaches and players would be held accountable for adhering to the guidelines that the county proposes. According to Rita Boulé, Blair's Athletic Director, she will work with coaches and students to establish protocols on how to hold practices that follow social-distancing, mask-wearing, and hygiene guidelines. "We will make the best, safest decisions we can with whatever latitude we have to make those decisions," Boulé said. If the county allows high schools to have in-person practices for fall sports, Athletic Directors will work together to ensure that those practices reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission as much as possible.
We cannot ignore how COVID-19 disproportionally affects the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community. During these dual pandemics of racial injustice and the coronavirus, Black and Latinx communities have been hit especially hard. In Maryland, Black Americans make up 30 percent of the population but account for 40 percent of all deaths due to the virus. Latinx Americans only account for 10 percent of the population but 25 percent of all cases. These disparities are the product of deeply-entrenched systemic injustices that deny adequate healthcare and resources to BIPOC individuals; and these disparities urge us to take every precaution so that our in-person practices are safe for the athletes and their coaches.
High school athletes will benefit from doing any activities that they can do while socially distanced from their teammates. It's a no-brainer that being outdoors while doing a sport you love with people you enjoy is an important part to our mental and physical health. Young Americans are struggling with their mental health during this period of isolation more than the older generations. Instead of staring at black squares on Zoom, students can spend time with one another while socially distanced and wearing a mask when appropriate. In-person practices will do more good for our students' mental and physical health than any number of Mindfulness Minutes will.
In terms of equity, transportation to and from practices poses questions as to whether students who rely on public buses face a significantly higher risk of contracting COVID-19. In studies conducted by researchers in Paris and Tokyo, only about one percent of major coronavirus outbreaks occurred on public transportation. An alternative solution would be to use the fleets of MCPS school buses to shuttle students to and from practices. There must be flexibility on the part of our school system to use their resources, such as school buses, to solve challenges that arise during these unprecedented times.
Keeping sports virtual for the fall will also worsen wealth disparities among students. Athletes that can afford to participate in club sports will have yet another leg up over their economically-disadvantaged teammates. Athletic scholarships are vital to student athletes who would not be able to otherwise afford higher education, and the skills needed to earn these scholarships are built under the watchful eye of coaches, not on Zoom calls. Having free in-person training for higher school athletes will help to level the playing field.
The issue of bringing back high school sports is not an either/or scenario. We can have our cake and eat it, too. High school athletes can benefit from training with their teammates and escaping the isolation of their online lifestyles, and we can hold them to rigid guidelines for social-distancing, mask-wearing, and hygiene. Even if the football team can't tackle one another yet, they can still do drills to prepare them for their spring seasons.
Even though we have to play it safe, we can still play.
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles [he/him], and I'm a Editor-in-Chief of SCO along with Tharindi Jayatilake. More »