What will be the fate
of winter sports?
Usually this time of year high school gyms and wrestling rooms across the state are buzzing with student athletes trying out for a spot on the team and preparing for their upcoming season.
Gov. Gary Herbert came out with a new state of emergency on Sunday, Nov. 8 and postponed all high school extracurricular activities for two weeks, with the exception of those schools who were playing in the state football tournaments.
Brooke Scheffler, a spokesperson for the governor’s office stated that the governor wants the high schools to continue with winter sports, he just wants it done in a healthy and safe way. The two week shutdown will be a time where Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) and school athletic directors can sit down and put together a safe plan to continue.
Coaches across the state have different opinions on how to handle COVID within high school sports teams, but Cole Kelley, a wrestling coach in the state has a strong one.
“Never in American history have we quarantined the healthy to protect the vulnerable,” Kelley said. “The statistics are clear. COVID-19 is most serious for the elderly and those with multiple comorbidities. Kids competing in high school activities are not a high risk of hospitalization or death in relation to COVID-19.”
Kelley also worries that by banning school events like dances and high school athletics that kids will engage in more risky behaviors to seek the natural need to socialize.
“Cancelling organized opportunities for kids to participate will not prevent kids from gathering,” Kelley said. “It will simply push them to gather in unorganized and dangerous scenarios. Would the governor prefer kids to be gathered in a high school wrestling room or throwing boxing gloves on with no supervision in a tucked-away location? It is a mistake to take away what has proven to be structured ways for kids to express themselves.”
It seems to be the consistent answer from superintendents and coaches that they want winter sports to continue, but they also want their students to be healthy and safe.
After watching football and volleyball successfully complete their seasons, Manti basketball Coach Devin Shakespeare said it would it would have been nice to see everyone be a little more proactive moving into winter sports.”
He continued to say that player safety should come first, but “we need to do a better job of acting instead of reacting.”
“Practice like school has proven to be a safe environment, he said. “If the goal was to be able to test the athletes we could have moved forward with tryouts and practices with the stipulation of no games for three weeks. Being prepared would have prevented the couple weeks off for players. With all the private gyms still open urban students have access to gyms that our rural athletes do not.”
Drill team is another activity disrupted by the governor’s mandate.
Manti Templers Drill Team Coach Kaylie Bailey says, “It’s tough right now! This is the point of our season where we are supposed to be hitting it hard and being in the gym every single day. There is also a new category this year for drill team and they have increased our difficulty, so it is a very crucial, difficult season anyway. So it is a really tough year to not be able to be in the gym. These girls have trained since spring and to have time like this off at such a crucial time really sets us back.”
Bailey continued, “We received word last week that they have pushed drill season back into January, and state will still be the first weekend in February. So our competition season this year will only last one month, that’s pretty devastating for our seniors. But we are in the same boat as everyone else; we are pushing forward and trying our very best. We are all trying to make it a great season despite all the setbacks.”
Not only is the postponed season ripping at the coaches heart strings, the athletes are struggling with the decisions.
“We have all set goals that we hope to reach each season,” stated North Sanpete High School wrestler Kasey Curtis. “I am only a few matches shy of my 100th high school career win, and that’s big for me. I wanted to reach that by Christmas break and with our season pushed back and matches canceled, that might not happen.”
UHSAA assistant director, Jon Ogelsby, stated that they aren’t really seeing any cases coming from the athletes at practices and games. It seems that most cases are coming from the activities they are participating in after school and when practices are over.
“The UHSAA is working in conjunction with the Governor’s Office and the State Department of Health to create effective testing protocol for the continuance of high school sports. We appreciate the assistance of all parties in this endeavor,” said Oglesby.