As we go down the list of things lost in the fallout from Covid-19, from death rates to jobs and closed businesses, high school sports may not seem like the most important. But for student athletes and their families, the missed opportunities could be life changing.
Athletes who’ve spent years practicing, and parents who’ve spent thousands for equipment and training, now face the possibility of a fall season that’s either shortened, or doesn’t happen at all.
Currently, CMS is in an “indefinite suspension on a return to athletic activity on our campuses,” CMS director of athletics Sue Doran said in an email to the Agenda.
Although the North Carolina High School Sports Association is allowing summer conditioning and workouts throughout the state, CMS is not. Due to worsening Covid-19 metrics across the state, the NCHSSA did move the start of the fall sports season practices from August 1 to September 1. That could mean lost games for virtually all high school sports teams.
Planned protest: Despite the risks of Covid-19, some athletes and coaches still want to play.
“It’s really hard,” Tahj El, a senior defensive back at Myers Park, told me. “I know a lot of people are getting discouraged. We try our best to workout by ourselves but just being with a team brings you a lot more happiness.”
El is one of several CMS athletes planning a protest Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. outside CMS headquarters to advocate for choice. They argue that parents and students should be able to decide whether to participate in upcoming sports seasons.
CMS’ board of education voted for mostly virtual learning for the upcoming school year, but these players want to come to school for athletics.
“We realized, ‘Hey, maybe we can do something to change what our season’s looking like,’ because it doesn’t look very promising,” Myers Park quarterback and protest organizer Drake Maye told the Agenda. “We’re trying to change that. I think this rally could help hopefully make a change and get the fall season back not just for football but for all the other sports.”
More than just a game: Beyond the fun, time spent in athletics usually means time not getting into trouble. That motivation to start on Friday nights is also motivation not to let grades drop. And the opportunity to play on the college level gives some students the chance for educational and career options they’d never have without sports.
The benefits and motivation that come with high school football translate to other sports. As student athletes wait to hear whether they’ll be able to hit the court or the field or the track this year, it really is more than just football, basketball, soccer, volleyball.
“I just worry there’s a lot of other things kids can get into that are now available to them while their sports are not available to them,” says Scott Chadwick, Myers Park’s head football coach. “The ills of society do not take a break because there’s a Covid-19 outbreak.”
When schools first closed back in March, sports stopped, ending the usually critical spring recruiting period. Now the fall recruiting period is in jeopardy. Having a season at all is critically important for all athletes who hope to play at the next level. You know the stories of the famous athletes who grew five or six inches in a single school year, then got recruited by top-notch programs and went on to become pros? Those kids might go unnoticed now.
On June 15, the N.C. High School Sports Association gave local school districts the go ahead for summer workouts. Some counties waited to start on July 6. But on July 2, a Thursday, CMS canceled those workouts, just four days before they were supposed to start. It surprised Chadwick and other coaches here. In neighboring Union County, fall sports teams went ahead with their workouts on July 6.
“I get why decisions are made to keep us from being out there but when you see other teams and other programs out there doing it you’re like, ‘Man, well, maybe we can do that,'” South Mecklenburg head football coach Joe Evans said.
Although coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state, Chadwick was convinced the safety training he and other coaches participated in, along with additional cleaning and sanitation tools, were enough to keep players safe.
“That was Christmas morning for these kids,” Chadwick says of the summer practices. “They were so looking forward to this.”
Those good feelings could extend outward into the community, too. It’s no secret that Charlotte’s seen a spike in violent crime this year. The homicide rate is already higher than last year’s, and many of the victims are young boys under the age of 18. They’re precisely the kids sports teams try to reach.
“Kids need structure,” Chadwick said. “Kids need routine and they haven’t had it since March.”
Covid-19 risks: Sue Doran said the district is waiting on Governor Cooper’s announcement on phase three and on the NCHSSA to communicate the format of a possible fall season.
“CMS will continue to monitor conditions and make a decision to return when we have a greater confidence in the conditions surrounding a return,” Doran said.
While the benefits of high school sports are numerous, the risk of additional outbreaks during a pandemic could be, too. In sports that require close contact, infected players could quickly pass the virus to their teammates.
The potential for high school aged kids to face severe side effects from coronavirus is low. However there’s a much higher chance they contract and spread the virus to others, including vulnerable family members.
In its latest bi-weekly report, Mecklenburg County reported 15.9 percent of cases and no related deaths among people under 20 years old. Meanwhile 11.5 percent of cases were among people over 60, that age group accounts for 85.4 percent of Covid related deaths.
[Related Agenda story: Current status of coronavirus in Charlotte: N.C. surpasses 100,000 cases]
The other crisis: Coronavirus isn’t the only public health crisis facing the U.S.; racism is another pressing threat facing the country. This summer protesters have filled the streets of Charlotte, and sometimes Myers Park, demanding justice and an end to police brutality.
For younger generations, this may be the first time they’ve participated in protests or paid close attention to challenges facing other racial and ethnic groups in America.
As a coach at Myers Park, one of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse schools in the county, Chadwick believes he has an opportunity to help start conversations about race with his team.
The indefinitely paused sports season for CMS schools makes this one more thing players are missing out on during the outbreak.
“Everyday I feel like I’m missing a tremendous opportunity for growth,” Chadwick said.