Editorial: When you start sports in a pandemic…

Riverside sports have resumed for the first time since March, and perhaps inevitably, things have not been as smooth-sailing as we hoped.

Riverside’s volleyball team dealt with a COVID-19 case within the first week of practice and now may not have enough varsity players to field a team due to concerns regarding safety. A new mask mandate requires cross country runners to adjust to running with a face covering at all times, something that was previously only required when not actively exercising.

None of this seems ideal. No one expected a pandemic to consume the season. Safety has been the foremost concern for months, and the joy sports bring to countless students seems, at times, to have been lost along the way.

Safety is crucial right now. And the definition of safety is more complex than anyone ever expected. On one hand, masks must be worn and distance must be kept to keep this virus at bay in order to protect student-athletes, staff, and their families. On the other, exercising with masks is a competitive disadvantage that students weren’t supposed to ever be prepared for. 

This is especially true for students who are seeking an athletic scholarship. Student-athletes getting scouted are expected to perform at a certain level, but that level is next to impossible when combined with the new mask mandate.

It sucks. It really does. These safety measures can sometimes feel painstaking, but the stakes have never been higher. The pandemic has spread significantly since March when schools and sports initially closed down. Daily cases and hospitalizations in North Carolina continue to set records.

We can all agree on the importance of sports, especially right now. This is one piece of normalcy that student-athletes need – and making that happen requires a team effort. We did not choose this pandemic, but we can and must choose to take precautions.

Student-athletes attending practice, district administration, and everyone in between must find common ground. We have to collectively understand the importance of both high school athletics and safety in the midst of a global pandemic. 

So while this feels so incredibly far from ideal, protecting sports requires us to protect one another. That means taking safety protocols seriously and following them, even with the understanding that this makes competition more difficult. That means everyone – student-athletes, coaches, school faculty, district administration, even visiting teams from other districts. More than ever, we are depending on one another to make the right decisions and keep each other safe, even as we compete.

For the few of us who have the privilege to play our sports right now,  let’s commit to taking precautions seriously so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed and grow as student-athletes this year – without having to compromise their safety. Our willingness to heed these rules and understand their importance will determine the fate of sports for the rest of the year, and more importantly, the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.

Once again, it sucks. But pandemic safety comes first right now. A season with masks is better than no season at all. Maybe, in some weird way, we can see these precautions as welcome opportunities to make the best of a bad situation.

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