By: Mitchell Steinberg
*January 4, 2021 is a big day if all remains the same over Christmas Break, it will bring the first action in Howard County High school sports since March thirteen this past year. Still a bitter taste stays with students as the postponement of high school sports has continued along with the delays of a return to school. Currently, Howard County students are staying virtual until the end of the third quarter. This vote came as a shock since the reevaluation was not supposed to be until January 26 at the end of quarter two, but instead the vote may have come too soon and jeopardized a chance at returning to school in the third quarter if it all this year. Since once the decision is made it is hard to reverse it and change direction for thousands of students and teachers.
On January 4, 2021 winter sports will start practices and begin the twenty day acclimation period athletes are required to have before competition in the county(As of January 6, 2021 Winter sports were cancelled). Which means the modified model Howard County elected to use from the state will be put into place and only two weeks would be available for Winter sports to play before the start of Fall sports. This model poses many problems like overlapping seasons and for those who play multiple sports, there could be constant athletic competition for six straight months. Could this model bring an increase in injuries during play? Also, for Seniors it makes competition minimal and difficult to get attention from colleges if no offers are on the table yet, and to make it worse, the Spring sports season goes past the graduation date and possibly for all into the summer. Wyatt Haney, Glenelg Senior said “It will be difficult for Spring athletes especially if someone has not committed or does not have offers, it will be a hard fight that goes down to the wire. Colleges are patient, but in a time like this the recruiting process is as hard as ever.” This proves how the model will cause many struggles for high school athletes outside of the physical toll and lack of competitive play. While the model is not as effective as some would hope, it will have to do as many high school athletes just want to return to play by nearly any means possible.
Issues may arise during the start of Winter sports, a small Covid outbreak could send Howard County sports right back to square one or destroy all hope immediately. The guidelines for the in-person workouts that were scheduled to start in early December before being postponed were vague. Pods, groups of ten or less athletes, would be utilized to reduce contact but this would be difficult for bigger team sports like indoor track and the issue would continue for Fall and Spring sports. While everyone waits to see how Howard County will adapt with the start of Spring sports, the hope will be to maintain the safety of students while conserving athletic competition. Glenelg Senior, Robbie Tolbert said “It is scary to know that a few cases among a team could take away the whole season for the Winter and possibly take away athletic competition fully for the remainder of the year. I do not know how the county will handle cases with high school athletes and any small outbreaks and that is my biggest fear.” Fear will be big as athletes have waited nearly a year to return to play and just like last Spring, it could all be gone in an instant with a rise in case numbers or a small outbreak at one school.
With no preseason workouts, protocol in Howard County will not have time to be tested, which could leave some room for error. A positive test on a team, does it shut down just that team? Does it shut down even with other negative tests? Does it shut down all athletics at the school? The questions surrounding the return to play go on and on, what is troublesome is the lack of answers the county has provided. For the most part that county has tried to be transparent but at times they have more than failed to do so, from an early vote on the return to school and now an update is still being waited for as the date approaches. Glenelg Junior, Spenser Flavin questions, “How will positive cases be handled if it is a small setting and everyone is a close contact, but may not test positive? Do positive tests mean it's the end for that athlete since competitive play for most sports ranges barely more than two weeks?” The right questions are being asked and the answers will come soon, but everyone would much rather know the answer than have to wait and see high school sports canceled again.
Will the acclimation period for sports improve the situation for high school sports? Sadly, not really with the difficulty of getting the vaccine it would be near impossible to vaccinate all high school athletes. This would also be if athletes and their parents were willing to allow universal vaccination for high school athletes. Max Pearcy, Glenelg Senior, a basketball player wants to know, “if it was available would the county require vaccination to play high school sports? Would voluntary vaccination become the standard and a player who declined to vaccinate test positive and shut down a program?” Again with the county and a lot of questions unanswered, it is difficult to know what will happen with positive tests and if available vaccination would mean universally vaccinated athletes. In this county, it would most likely be decided by a vote which could cause just as much uproar, Coronavirus has not failed to make life difficult and it will not stop for high school sports return to play (As of January 19, vaccine rollouts are in full swing and high schoolers that are 16 years of age or older are eligible to be vaccinated when their phase arrives, which is not until near the end of the vaccination phases as they are part of phase 3).
Return to play, return to normalcy, social distancing everything is a common phrase that rings in many high school athletes minds and has been the most used since last Spring. Those are big as for many high school athletes it stops here, so without a season athletic careers will end forever for a lot of people. Sports are outlets for many high schoolers from stress, home life and social issues sports allow some to get away and work for something no one can take away. Now Coronavirus has found a way to take away sports from many and without the outlet and isolation it has greatly impacted mental health. Is mental health considered by the county while making these decisions for high school sports even with the bigger factor of the Coronavirus?