To Sport or Not to Sport?

Last night, our local school board made the difficult decision to call off competitive sports this year. The Maine Principals Association had given a green light for sports to continue in some districts, depending on what each individual district felt was best, and so it shifted to a local decision.

Honestly, my reaction is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it seems to me that some sports (cross country being a prime example) surely could find a way to compete in a socially distant fashion. You’re outside, runners generally don’t clump together too much, and you could take steps to make that clumping even less frequent. Additionally, the case rate in my county (as I’ve noted multiple times before) is very low. We have 4 active cases today in the whole county. There has been 1 death. When you have colleges running entire football seasons in areas with much higher case rates, it’s easy to wonder why we couldn’t reach some sort of a compromise that would let competitive sports continue here. (Other districts in the area are moving forward with seasons, after all.)

On the other hand, I look at the potential “worst case scenario” outcomes on both sides of the argument. If you don’t have competitive sports, this might result in some very upset students and parents. Some students who are passionate about sports might grow less engaged in their schooling, and there could be some resulting depression or mental illness. (I’m trying to think as “worst case” as I can here.) On the other side of the coin, if you hold sports anyway, you might bring COVID into a community that has little evidence of it right now. It catches hold in the community, and multiple people die.

That might sound outlandish, but it’s 100% happening across the country now. The only difference between Maine and other states is that in Maine it’s easier to trace exactly where the COVID came from and what happens as a result of it. Case in point: the wedding in Millinocket that has since directly resulted in 176 COVID cases and 7 deaths. If that family had chosen to not have a public wedding, 7 people would still be alive today, and our case count would be at least 3.6% lower than it is right now. From one single event. I’m not sure who it was who got married (definitely safer for them not to be publicly known), but imagine making national headlines for the way your marriage ceremony ended up impacting your entire state.

With sports in Maine, you could potentially have something similar happen. And where in other states, COVID is rampant enough that you can’t be sure where a case came from and what it resulted in, you could see news stories in Maine about how a school that held sports ended up killing members of its community due to that decision.

Public workers are being forced to make calls that are beyond the level of responsibility they signed up for. A doctor might expect to have to make life or death decisions. A pastor or a superintendent? Not so much. Sure, any one of us might be thrust into an emergency situation where lives are on the line, but this is different than that. These are decisions you know about ahead of time, and where your judgement will be directly responsible for the outcomes. The preacher who married the couple in Millinocket has been unrepentant. It baffles me that someone could take that stance in light of what happened, but it is what it is. I don’t think a superintendent would have quite the same leeway.

I want my kids to have a great school experience. I want them to be able to be in school plays or go to school dances or perform in school music groups. But while we’re stuck with COVID (due to the gross negligence on the way the pandemic was handled in this country), this is the hand we’ve been dealt. I’m going to still try to do things to help my kids have fun, but it’s going to have to be different than it would have been if we’d handled this better. (Though that said, it appears other countries are having resurgences as well. Maybe their good actions just bought themselves a breather, not a solution. Time will tell. But a breather would have been lovely . . .)

Am I 100% happy with the school board’s decision? No. But there’s no decision they could have made that would have resulted in everyone being happy. They have to make the best they can with what they’ve been given, just like the rest of us. Maybe something will change in the future to make it possible to reevaluate the status quo. For now, we carry on.


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