Not optimistic for high school sports starting soon — at this moment

By DAVID W. HEALY (COLUMN),

It is 9 o’clock in the morning on Friday, July 10, and, right now, I am not optimistic we will have high school sports this fall.

But the good news is ever since we started living in the age of uncertainty, I know that my opinion seems to change every other moment. Ask me the same question in a week or two and I may be gung-ho that the seasons will start this fall.

Let me be honest. I am desperate for high school sports to begin. Covering these games is what I do. High school sports are not just an extracurricular activity. They are important to both the growth of the athletes who play them and to the fabric of our community.

But, I do live in reality. And, too many things have happened recently, most notably the sudden rise in new coronavirus cases, that makes me wonder if high school sports will happen anytime soon.  

“Mississippi is in a fight for our lives. We are in the middle of a spike,” Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday afternoon after ordering residents in 13 counties, including Washington, to wear masks while at public gatherings.

It is statements like this one by the governor that has given me more pessimism about high school sports beginning on time this fall. High school football players are set to begin full practices in just a few weeks, and, at the same time, the governor is saying we are in a fight for our lives?

Then, a few minutes ago, I checked my email and read the St. Joseph Catholic School newsletter. It only made me more pessimistic about playing sports this fall.

Contained in the newsletter were guidelines by The Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which included:

— Having each school take temperatures of all school and staff members before school starts each day.

— Mandating that masks be worn by students, teachers and anyone who enters the school

— Schools must make special efforts to limit class sizes and adjust schedules

After reading these guidelines, which will likely be similar to other school districts in our community, I just don’t see how you can be this cautious during the school day, but after the bell rings tell the youngsters, “Now take off your masks and go play a tackle football game against other kids from another town.” 

It’s true that professional sports like the NBA and Major League Baseball are currently gathering and are about to begin their seasons. This should be signs of hope. But, I also realize that these leagues are also mandating that everyone involved in the leagues’ startup plans must be constantly tested for COVID-19. It just does not seem to make sense that professional athletes need to be tested in order to play, but it is fine if high school athletes are not tested. Are we saying an NBA player's life is more valuable then one of our high school children? Even if you think this whole situation has been blown out of proportion (which I find myself believing at times), I don’t see how you can see the logic of only testing the athletes in the country who have the funds to afford the tests. According to the data, professional athletes are just as likely to not be seriously harmed by the virus as high school kids. 

In college football, it appears the dominoes are starting to fall. First, the Ivy League canceled its football season earlier this week, and on Thursday, the Big Ten announced it will only play conference games this season. The Big Ten knows that the smaller schools cannot afford constant coronavirus testing, so they are creating their own bubble.

Another reason for my pessimism was reading the comments from our newspaper’s Facebook site. We asked parents if their children should return to school in August. We have received more than 500 comments on this subject, and I was surprised by how many parents are against even returning back to school. Roughly half of parents were against returning to school in August.

“No!!!! It’s not safe,” one parent wrote. “It will be awful. Not only will the kids, teachers and the rest of the school staff be at risk of being infected with this deadly virus, but many families connected to them will be as well!!! It shouldn’t be up for discussion if they should attend school or stay home. This is where common logic should be used!!! The final answer should be No!!! Safety comes first.” 

Even though I may not agree with this parent’s opinion, I certainly respect it.

If so many parents in our community are this against even opening up school, you would assume they would also be against playing contact sports against children of other communities.

So, right now I am definitely not an optimist about high school sports starting on time in August.

But, like I say, ask me how I feel in a week or two. I hope my opinion changes.

David W. Healy is the sports editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. He can be reached at dhealy@ddtonline.com.