Gov. Larry Hogan said late last month that Maryland high schools can resume playing sports in October. That might be true for a few schools in some counties that have been only marginally affected by the pandemic, but it is not true for Frederick.
Hogan announced that formal high school sports practices can begin today, Oct. 7, with the games and meets starting in three weeks, on Oct. 27.
The Frederick County school system should just say no.
The Board of Education is meeting tonight, and it should stay the course it has been on since summer, planning for now to resume sports on a limited basis in the spring semester. When almost all classes are being conducted remotely to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff, it is not the time to have students congregating in the locker rooms.
We are more than sympathetic to the desire of student-athletes and their families to resume playing and competing. It is terrible to deny these young people the right to compete. But it is too soon.
The National Football League, which has almost unlimited resources to protect its players, has had to postpone games because of the number of positive tests for COVID-19.
The University of Notre Dame, which is almost as well-funded as the teams of the NFL, has postponed one game and has had about a dozen players test positive.
The NFL and Notre Dame can afford to test, trace and isolate those with positive tests. They have the money to test every day, to provide the very best medical supervision and care. And with all those advantages, they have not been able to block out this pernicious virus.
What chance does a public school, operating with strictly limited resources, have to accomplish the same goal? We say, very little.
State officials said COVID-19 metrics across the state led them to make their decision to resume play. But they did not provide guidance on how to safely make it happen.
Beyond the safety issues, restarting outdoor fall sports in late October means that kids will be playing in increasingly colder or worse weather in November and December.
The fall sports are football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, volleyball, cross-country and golf. Only cross-country and golf might be played in relative safety from the virus, but conditions would be challenging.
All of the others require close, face-to-face interaction, especially football. It is impossible to avoid transmission if anyone is sick.
The state athletic governing body had previously released a plan to play abbreviated fall, winter and spring sports during the school year’s second semester, beginning in February. To us, that still seems to be the better way to go.
The county school system issued a statement after Hogan’s announcement which said in part: “At this time Frederick County Public Schools is committed to athletics conditioning and skills-based practices during the first semester and to continued collaboration with the Frederick County Health Department.”
Student-athletes and their parents have been pushing the system to move more quickly and start playing immediately. We understand their desire and impatience to return to normal. But nothing is normal right now, and high school sports are no different than school, work or recreation, all of which have been disrupted by the pandemic.
As school board President Brad Young said to the News-Post, “There are a lot of unknowns still there about how to do this safely.”
The voluntary, non-contact conditioning and skills-based workouts that began in the summer and have continued into the school year are going to have to be enough for now. With luck, the kids can be back in the gyms and on the playing field in the spring.