Guest Commentary: I Love HS Sports, but they aren’t Best for the Good of the Public as a Whole Right Now

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Outdoor sports are manageable. Indoor sports are fraught with peril. Tournaments are to be avoided.

(Editor’s Note: Dave Glass is a long-time sports official and part-time radio announcer who also is a Clearfield County Commissioner) 

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me introduce myself. I’m Dave, I live in Dubois but was raised in Clearfield. I’m a 30-year sports official, 20+ working PIAA sports (wrestling, football, baseball, and currently softball). I am the voice of DuBois football for one radio station and the voice of Clearfield wrestling for another. I’ve coached several sports and I’ve had six kids compete in nearly every high school sport offered.

So, when I tell you I love sports, and it’s killing me not to be able to support winter sports right now, I hope you can believe me.

However – I’m also an elected official, sworn to serve the citizens of my county. I cannot let personal desires stand in the way of what’s best for the good of the public as a whole. And the fact is we are dealing with a pandemic unprecedented in modern history.

Some other relevant facts about this virus: It’s highly contagious. It’s airborne, spread through deep breathing, singing, talking/yelling. It affects older adults and those with underlying conditions far more than it affects youth. It’s far more dangerous indoors than outdoors, especially in crowded or poorly-ventilated areas. We have two approved vaccines already starting to roll out, with several more in late-stage development.

There are some facts on the other side of the ledger that should not be ignored: Humans are social animals. We crave companionship and interaction. Team sports offer a myriad of benefits to our youth – if you’re reading this site, I most likely do not have to explain those benefits to you.

At times like these, we must separate our needs from our wants. I do not believe it’s an exaggeration to call this a war against the virus; wars often require sacrifices. I believe we need our kids to get the best education possible. That means, we need our kids in school, especially our younger kids. There’s ample evidence that shows kids do not learn as well in remote settings as compared to in-class.

We also know kids are not spreading the virus at high rates in schools, especially the younger kids. But older kids are more at risk/more apt to spread. The best way to contain the spread and still keep schools open is to create a ‘bubble-like’ environment in schools. Only the students and the everyday school personnel should enter the buildings. Many schools are doing that, with some success.

Unfortunately, interscholastic athletics can poke a big hole in that bubble. Now you’ve got kids – and adults (we’ll get back to that idea) from different schools and different towns intermixing. Gyms are not known for having good ventilation and air circulation – you get one highly contagious case, it can easily spread around. And my favorite winter sport – wrestling – is the absolute worst for this. Wrestling rooms are germ centers in the best of times. We all know how staph infections can rip through a team; I’ve seen a flu virus knock half of a wrestling team down for a week. It’s the ultimate non-distancing sport. Masks for wrestling? Please. Waste of time.

“But kids don’t often get sick from this”, you say. “Why are we worried? Let it run its course through the student populations!“

The problem is – even if we accept the risk to the kids, there are a lot of adults around them. Coaches. Refs. Parents, grandparents. Refs in particular are trending older and older as a group. I’ve already seen a few obits for refs. Officiating a sport should not be a matter of life and death, not for $70 per game (less for lower level sports).

Also…when you have team events, the parents want to come. They get angry if you keep them out. I’ve seen many districts bend to that pressure; now you’ve raised the risk profile. And that doesn’t even address the teachers, and other school personnel at risk daily. Those folks don’t deserve a higher risk profile either.

However…if we were looking at years of this, I’d probably feel like we need to find a way to make these sports work. We can’t just shut it all down and wait it out for years. This is where the vaccine tilts the scales for me: the scientists and doctors estimate that by April or May, vaccines will be readily available to the masses. We’ll be well into spring sports by then – and as I mentioned above, outdoor sports are far less risky. We proved last summer and last fall that we can play football and soccer at the HS level – baseball, softball, and track seem like no-brainers by comparison. By summer we should be back to normal by and large.

So what we are really talking about is one winter season. Basketball and wrestling primarily – and I’d argue that wrestling is impacted the most (kids play pickup basketball year-round). I HATE to see a wrestling season lost, and it is my most fervent hope that we get these case counts down and have some sort of a season. But I strongly believe that it should be dual meets only, no spectators, no large tournaments. If it’s really about the kids, parents and family should be willing to accept that so the kids get SOME time in the gym.

We also have to prepare for the possibility of losing the season – spring sports went through that already, and the world spins on. With the end of the pandemic so close, with so many people locally dying…is it worth pushing the envelope just to get a sport season in? Do we not owe the elderly and the infirm more respect than that, with the danger so obvious in our communities?

I don’t want that, and I think there’s a path forward – but that really depends on you and those around you. Can you maintain the discipline to NOT gather in large groups? Can you convince your friends and family of the same? Can you speak out about the danger of this virus and the direct correlation between our bad behaviors – and the effect on these kids as they lose these experiences?

You can’t have it both ways. One leads directly to the other. If we all work together, dramatically slow the spread of this virus, then we have a chance to play. Otherwise…we reap what we sow. I hope and pray that we can all find common cause to battle and ultimately overcome this terrible virus.

I wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, a much more prosperous and enjoyable 2021…and I hope to see you on the field or in the gym sometime soon!

Editor’s note: YourDailyLocal.com believes it is important to hear from all sides in the debate on whether high school sports should be played or not played right now because of COVID-19. If you would like to express your opinion, please e-mail us at [email protected]