Are school sports worth the risk in the age of COVID-19?

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Photo illustration by Jude Heatley

For many students at our school, sports are a great way to meet friends, get exercise, get outside or just have some fun after a long school day. From students who occasionally attend the fall football games to dedicated varsity athletes, sports play an important role in all of our lives. Due to the importance of sports, many of the school’s teams have developed practice schedules and are getting ready for a new season. Starting so soon, however, may not be the best idea: COVID-19 rates in Arlington are rising and sources from the New York Times say it’s possible we may not get a vaccine for the virus until late into next year. In this article, I will explain why I believe that our school may face some serious consequences if the school board allows high contact sports to happen.

According to health guidelines put out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best ways to keep safe from COVID-19 are to wear a mask and maintain social distance. In sports such as football, basketball and soccer, these restrictions are almost impossible to follow due to the nature of how close players have to get during the games. Additionally, it would be hard for many to keep their masks on and breathe adequately. In other sports, such as golf or cross country, modifications could be made without completely altering the sport in order to keep everyone safe. There is also the issue of team busses. Some sports require teammates to take long bus rides together and that is definitely a concern. One student athlete has the potential to infect his entire team without even knowing he has the virus.

A good example of what could happen if Arlington high schools started sports games too early is evident in college football. For colleges across the country, the football season has been, to say the least, unsuccessful. According to CBS Sports, there have been more than 30 game postponements/cancellations. On top of this, teams have struggled to find enough players to play on game days and members of team faculty have caught COVID-19 as well, including Alabama coach Nick Saban. What this means is obvious: starting sports too early is a high risk, low reward situation.

Student athletes are not the only ones at risk from sports starting prematurely. Coaches, friends and family can all be affected if a student gets sick. Some people might think the pandemic is largely behind us in Arlington, but they would be wrong. According to the Arlington Data Directory, there are 4,854 cases as of November 4th. There are between 20 to 25 confirmed cases each day. While young people may not care so much about COVID-19, it is important for them to know they can spread it to people who are at a higher risk, such as their parents or grandparents. Students with pre-existing conditions are also at a higher risk for complications.

The issue of a vaccine also plays a role in this issue. According to the New York Times , the vast majority of Americans will not get a vaccine until next year. It is also a common concern amongst Americans whether this vaccine will work or if it is even safe to take. It will be up to APS whether they want to make it mandatory for students to get the vaccine, but right now a lot of these questions are still up in the air. Should athletes whose parents refuse to get them vaccinated be allowed to participate?

While there are many downsides to opening sports early on, there are also some upsides. For one, there are students who are on track to get sports scholarships and not playing this year might hurt their chances. Sports also help fund the school. For example, admission at football games is $5, an amount of money that adds up once multiplied by more than one  hundred students. Still, if not playing sports can prevent many people from becoming ill, possibly even save a life, it is definitely something the school should seriously consider.

Because of all the uncertainties surrounding the issue of whether or not school sports are safe for students, It would be best to wait — at least until COVID-19 is no longer a problem in Arlington — to start them. Starting too early, as we have seen, could prolong the amount of time we have to wait until everything is truly back to normal. For low contact sports that are outside, there is not much risk and as long as people are taking precaution, there is no reason why they can not continue on schedule. However, for sports like football or basketball, where contact is a necessary part of the game, it might not be advisable for students to even play at all this year.