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Myles Mooyoung was looking forward to starting the fall football season at Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago. The 17-year-old senior defender needed up-to-date records of his works to attract college scouts and compete for an athletic scholarship.
But at the beginning of school, it was clear this was not going to happen in Illinois. After Democratic Governor JB Pritzker and the state health department ordered high-risk school sports such as soccer to be pushed into the spring due to COVID-19 concerns, Mooyoung and his family made a quick and unusual decision. : Mooyoung moved four hours north to live with his father in Michigan, which will allow for inter-school football competitions this fall.
In Michigan, where fall football matches can proceed, Portland High School head coach John Novara, left, speaks to the team after defeating Lansing Catholic 21-7 on Friday, Oct.2, 2020. (Photo: Nick King / Lansing State Journal)
Instead of stopping the season, he plays for Wylie E. Groves High School in the Detroit suburbs. He had six tackles and two interceptions on 2 October to help his new school win 36-26; the team lost 35-28 on Friday.
Mooyoung is an elite athlete and an example of the steps that resourceful parents will take to support their children’s dreams. But his story is the latest sticking point in the national debate on how schools should reopen in the midst of a pandemic: is it safe to keep sports in high schools, regardless of whether students are in school? And if so, what changes are families willing to accept?
Across the country, some parents have filed protests and filed lawsuits to pressure politicians, health officials and state sports associations to resume competitive autumn sports, especially football. Leaders of the effort are many of the same parents who fought the schools’ decisions to give classes online.
“Sports and school are intertwined,” said David Ruggles, a father of five in suburban Chicago. He filed a lawsuit this month against the Illinois High School Association in hopes of restarting football. “Who are we helping by keeping sports closed?”
According to the Illinois Department of Health: A lot of people.
“There is a greater risk of COVID-19 infection associated with elevated contact sports,” said Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In states where sports such as football are on-going, Arnold said, COVID-19 positivity rates are double that of Illinois, according to infection information from those states. She pointed to cities like St. Louis, Dallas, and Danbury, Connecticut, where coronavirus infections and the death of a young coach have been traced to youth sports.
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Even in Michigan, where Mooyoung is competing, some high schools have had to cancel football matches and quarantine entire teams recently due to infections and exposure to COVID-19.
However, parents and students in Illinois and across the country they protested by postponing football and other autumn sports until spring. They used the social media hashtag #Let us play to emphasize the mental and physical benefits of inter-school competition, particularly since many students have returned to online learning this fall instead of fully in-person classes this fall.
But even for districts that allow fall sports to proceed normally, it hasn’t always been easy. Some parents resisted school safety measures, such as the warrants of masks in the stands. This has resulted in some districts strengthening security or stopping games or, in one case, accusing a parent of trespassing.
“It’s a mess,” said Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which represents the 51 associations that run around 20,000 high schools nationwide.
Decisions to play or postpone the sport may seem different even between neighboring school districts, he said.
“People are desperately losing their businesses. They want their children to go back to school,” Niehoff said. “But the reality is different from place to place”.
Lakeview cheerleaders Kayla Shupp, Alaya Marshall and Minate Lussier swelled the crowd on Friday, October 2 at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. Lakeview defeated Kalamazoo Central 28-12. (Photo: Alyssa Keown | The Battle Creek Enquirer)
Tensions flare up on autumn football
Given football’s esteemed place in American culture, it’s no surprise that families and fans have fought hard for its return, even in places where COVID-19 infections have been high.
In all, 31 states have done so autumn sports competitions modified due to the pandemic, according to the national federation. Fourteen states are moving forward normally. In Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Nevada, California, and Washington, DC, all fall races have been postponed to late winter or spring.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced in mid-August that he would allow fall youth sports to continue, as long as all athletes followed strict safety protocols.
But some of Ohio’s urban districts, such as Columbus and Cincinnati, started their season later due to the high rates of infection in their areas. Those districts also started the year with all distance learning students. Parents and athletes from Cincinnati protested that break, saying low-income students particularly relied on sports to give them focus and a safe place to go after school.
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In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo said low- and moderate-risk sports such as football, field hockey, and cross-country skiing can practice and play, but high-risk sports such as soccer can only practice. , do not compete, due to concerns spreading the virus.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association then announced it would push fall football to spring, along with volleyball and cheerleading.
Then, in late September, a parent of a Niagara high school quarterback filed a class action suit in the New York State Supreme Court. The postponement of the season, the lawsuit said, amounted to discrimination against senior football players who wouldn’t have the same chance of getting caught for scholarships as their peers allowed to play in other states.
In Illinois, Ruggles, the parent from the Chicago suburbs, tried a slightly different tactic. He filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association on the grounds that it did not follow its charter in adjusting the season.
A judge ruled against the parents, which means the COVID-19 sports orientation of Illinois still holds: Students can practice and compete in low-risk sports this fall, such as golf, cross-country skiing, and tennis. Students are prohibited from competing in medium-risk sports such as football and volleyball and in high-risk sports such as football.
“The heart of this is the restrictions we have from our governor,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of IHSA.
Now parents and students from Illinois have doubled down on in-person protests. Student athletes marched to the governor’s house in Chicago last weekend and continued their protests this week.
Ruggles said sport provides a recreational and social outlet for children, which is important for their mental health. He said Illinois’ rates of COVID positive cases aren’t much different than Indiana’s, a state where fall football has resumed.
“When kids get the virus, they don’t get sick,” Ruggles said. “They are around anyway. The downside if they don’t play is anxiety and depression.”
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Is it safe to play sports?
Medical and educational experts are divided on what is best for students.
The physical and mental benefits of sport are critical to student development, especially after being locked up for months due to the pandemic, said Dr. David M. Smith, director of youth sports medicine at the University of Kansas Health System.
Mask requirements and other safety measures, such as social distancing, hand washing and hygiene, outdoor play, and restricting shared sports equipment can reduce the risk of spreading the infection, he said.
“I think we’re safer on the pitch, honestly,” Smith said. “The youngsters will still reunite with their friends”, even if training and matches are canceled.
South Putnam High School players walk the paths during an afternoon soccer practice at South Putnam High School in Greencastle, Indiana on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. (Photo: Colin Boyle / IndyStar)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says administrators of youth sports organizations should consult with state and local health officials to determine if practices and games can be played. The CDC considerations for youth sports include safety measures such as social distancing and limited sharing of sports equipment to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, some education experts are questioning the drive to resume athletics.
“If it is too dangerous to give in-person classes, including physical education, and if other significant extracurricular activities such as drama and marching bands have been put on hold, why should sport resume?” education at Syracuse University.
In central New York, Ashby said, some districts are playing state-allowed competitive fall sports, while others have postponed them.
Cancellations hit hardest on low-income students. Their districts face greater financial and logistical challenges in implementing new security measures, Ashby said.
The next battle of schools: what to do with fans who misbehave
Some districts hosting fall competitions have struggled to enforce safety restrictions with fans, such as mask mandates.
In Ohio, a mother who refused to wear a mask and then refused to leave a middle school football game was tasked when she resisted the school resources officer. The mother said she wasn’t wearing a mask because she had asthma.
Police in Logan, Ohio, say the woman was arrested and charged only after she refused to leave for failing to comply with the school’s policy of wearing a mask.
In Idaho, antigovernment activist Ammon Bundy recently tried to watch a high school football game but refused to wear a mask. When he also refused to leave the vicinity of the field, officials reportedly stopped the football match. The school district later said the game ended early due to a threat called into the school.
In Nebraska, where fall sports have resumed competition, a district superintendent has faced setbacks for limiting fans to only those cheering for the home team.
Tawana Grover, superintendent of the Grand Island Public Schools, said she and the school board decided to limit crowds, as the region had been a coronavirus hotspot in the spring.
But when some parents began protesting on social media and encouraging fans of visiting teams to ignore safety protocols, Grover announced that the district would strengthen security during matches and order anyone who didn’t have a ticket to leave. .
“Each district has to think about what’s best and safest for them,” Grover said.
Grover said she and the board are considering whether to allow fans of the visiting team for their final home game on Oct.16.
After that, Grand Island will have to decide how to handle fans in an even more worrying environment: indoors, when the basketball season begins.
Contributing: Steven Blackledge, The Columbus Dispatch; Scott Springer, The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Contact Erin Richards at (414) 207-3145 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emrichards.
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