Winter Sports: Is Now The Right Time?

For the past couple months, the RSU 21 community has remained divided on the next step forward with high school winter sports. There is a large portion of teachers, parents, community members, and students, who feel that due to the rising Covid case numbers as well as our recent shutdowns, restarting sports simply doesn’t make sense. However, another large number of people feel the opposite. They believe that because our kids are struggling and because we have become good as a district at responding to Covid with proper precautions, that we should allow kids to play. Isn’t a feeling of normalcy exactly what everyone needs right now?

Personally, I have been battling with these two sides of my conscience since the beginning of the school year when athletes were faced with the return to fall sports. I ultimately made the decision to opt out of my fall season due to family health reasons and the amount of stress that just getting back to school in a Covid world was causing me. I also don’t regret this decision, for as successful as the fall season was for many people, opting out still felt like the safest option for myself and my family at that point in time. However, as my basketball season approached and we began to know more about how Covid spread or how to manage close contacts, I could hear the little voice in my head and the feeling in my gut begging me to not opt out this time around. As a self-proclaimed extrovert and somebody who thrives off of social interaction and involvement, not having sports, clubs, or even all of the in-person days of a school week, has had a huge mental health impact on me. Additionally, because of my own anxiety around the pandemic, I barely have a group of people outside of my family that I can interact with on a regular basis without fearing for my health or my family’s safety. Therefore, the thought of being able to be back in the gym with my teammates and coaches was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.  

Not that this decision was without its conflict. The week that sports were finally set to begin, I was exposed to a classmate with Covid and effectively put into quarantine for the next 10 days. Almost directly after I got the call to self-quarantine, Dr. Cooper closed the school for the rest of the week and we remained home the next week as well. This experience, at first, felt like a sign that now was just not the right time to start playing sports. If I couldn’t even go to school without being exposed to Covid, why would I play a sport that puts me right up in the faces of others, both from my team and players from other schools? However, the more I thought about it, and once I tested negative, it felt like the opposite – a sign that the measures we are taking to ensure nobody gets sick are working. At this moment in time, we have had no evidence or cases of in-school transmission. There haven’t been any issues with students wearing their masks, staying distanced, or wiping down their areas, and while we’ve been spending weeks and weeks debating the return of sports, the rest of the state has already been playing. Furthermore, these other schools have been able to demonstrate that Covid is ultimately not spreading through school sports when the proper precautions are being taken. 

At last, after almost 3 weeks away from school, and personally over a year away from sports, I was able to set foot back in the gym on February 8th. Even though we still aren’t able to all practice together yet because of a precautionary week of cohort separated practices, the energy in the building and practice was palpable. That night, I came home and despite honestly feeling emotionally and physically exhausted, I also felt the happiest and most fulfilled I had felt in months. Most importantly, I felt safe. Isn’t this exactly what we want all kids to be feeling and experiencing right now? The pandemic has had an indescribable effect on everyone, but especially kids who are so accustomed to social stimulation and who depend on this involvement to stay afloat. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, Covid has taken away almost every “normal” thing from high school students: their sports, clubs, classes, music and arts, dances, the list goes on and on. So the idea that they could have one of these things back, and still feel safe while doing it, is a huge achievement in my mind. 

There are still many students, parents, and community members who do not feel comfortable with this new transition, and in many ways they have every reason to be concerned.  For a majority of people, any type of exposure or risk still remains impossible whether that is due to physical health complications or other reasons. Additionally, if Covid has taught us anything, it is that this is unprecedented territory, we have to remain on our toes, and control what we can control. But it has also taught us, at least for adolescents, that we need to prioritize mental health, look for creative solutions, and trust what science is telling us. In reality, there is never going to be a “good time” during a global pandemic to add more risk. People are going to keep getting sick and the virus is going to keep spreading, (at least for the near future) and although it is easy to wallow in the hole that is the fear, sadness, and disappointment that accompanies our Groundhog’s Day lifestyles now, it is more important than ever to find things that can give us hope for the future. For me and many other students, that is the excitement of finally being able to return to something that brings us so much joy in such a dark time. For those of you who unfortunately can’t take this extra risk right now, please know that your voice is heard and respected, and remember to make time for yourself to find the things that give you this same feeling of hope.