Return of high school sports will require action, compassion

Whether or not high schools make a complete return this fall will depend on if we can limit the spread of COVID-19 and will take everyone doing their part, says Courier-Tribune sports writer Mac Moore.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re just short of five months since the coronavirus pandemic upended our lives and forced us into embracing the new normal. It feels like this has been going on for much longer than that.

As we approach the new school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a higher number of new daily cases nationwide than when we decided in April that it was too high of a risk for schools to return to in-person instruction for the duration of the 2019-20 school year.

We’ve seen the biggest spike in Clay County during the past month as the total cases doubled from 338 on June 23 to 711 on Monday, July 27, according to the health center’s COVID-19 resource hub.

As a high school sports writer, I have a vested interest in students returning to school and student-athletes returning to the field this fall. With that said, my hope of sports returning is conditional. I think a return to sports has to be safe and education needs to be the primary concern.

We don’t have nearly enough answers right now — about how schooling will look this year or even about the virus itself — but the Missouri State High School Activities Association has chosen a much more straightforward approach to sports returning than their counterparts in other states.

MSHSAA released guidelines on July 21 detailing what it would look like if sports are indeed able to return this fall. The organization made it clear that sports will remain as scheduled, but schools without in-person instruction will not be able to participate in sports and activities.

The all-or-nothing approach is interesting when you compare it to other members of the National Federation of State High School Associations. The NFHS lists 23 states as delaying the start of their sports seasons, with six of those states choosing not to play football in the fall.

Whether it’s moving high-contact risk sports like football from the fall to the spring or just delaying the start of the season until coronavirus case numbers trend down, MSHSAA Executive Director Kerwin Urhahn has likely heard most of the ideas in his role as the NFHS president, a position he started on July 2.

Urhahn said during a radio appearance on KWIX 92.5FM in Columbia that he’s had conversations about moving fall sports to later in the calendar, but he doesn’t see that decision as viable for high school sports. He said that solution could work for college student-athletes that are more likely to play a single sport, but high school student-athletes often compete in multiple sports.

“Our kids may play volleyball, play basketball and play track,” Urhahn said. “They may be a three-sport athlete, so changing seasons makes it extremely difficult on those kids who want to play multiple sports. We’re just trying to … do the very best we can at this time to give opportunities to those kids.”

MSHSAA seems to have taken the stance that we have to control what we can control. It did its part by creating a clear path toward returning to sports with as many safety precautions as they could fit into an eight-page PDF.

But many of the factors that will lead to a return of in-person instruction, and subsequently high school sports, will be out of MSHSAA’s hands.

The Smithville School District delivered a powerful message echoing that sentiment in an image it tweeted out July 18.

“Wearing a mask shows compassion for those around you. Help the Warriors return to school.”

It’s important to remember that a mask isn’t a cure-all. Masks simply limit the spread of droplets that can transmit the virus, according to the CDC.

If we wear a mask, remain 6 feet apart and wash our hands, we have a much better shot of seeing those students back in school and those student-athletes back on the field.

We must act now.

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