CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Over the last week we have seen a pair of Division-I, Power-5 college conferences, and multiple other college conferences, including the Mountain East Conference, postpone fall sports for this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
High school fall sports — at least here in West Virginia — are still scheduled to begin on Monday.
But is it safe to play?
“I think sports that are outside, and where you can maintain some distance, those are easy,” said WVU Medicine pediatric infectious disease specialist, Dr. Kathryn Moffett.
But what about other sports?
“I do worry, I have to say, two kids and they’re on the line, face to face in a football helmet, and they’re breathing heavy, or they may be talking or shouting, that to me is a little more worrisome,” she said.
Despite the physical health hurdles that must be cleared in order for sports to be completed from start to finish this fall, WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan calls attention to a separate health issue that can arise if sports don’t happen.
“Wisconsin has a study out. In the spring, when high school kids were not competing because it got shut down, 75 percent of these kids had mental health issues,” said Dolan.
That study can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Teams at the high school level have been conditioning or practicing together off and on since June, starting in the weight room and then transitioning to the field, where they hope to continue team activities the rest of the fall.
Thus far, teams around the state have done this with minimal impacts or announced cases of COVID-19.
But it’s the weight room that worries Moffett the most.
“Places that greatly worry me are indoor gyms. You have equipment, people are working really hard, breathing heavy, and they’re in a closed environment,” said Moffett.
At the end of the day, it won’t be Moffett who decides the fate of fall sports.
It will be the WVSSAC, Department of Education and DHHR, among others, including the general population in how it continues to respond to COVID-19, if fall sports are to play out to the finish this fall.
But Moffett offers this.
“Thinking about being in sports, maybe everyone needs to wear a mask all the time, but I think if we can’t do it in a classroom with normal activity, I’m not sure how we can expect kids to remember or to do that with sports,” she says.
Regular season competitions are scheduled to begin on September 2 or 3 for all fall sports except for golf, which begins its regular season in four days.
Of course, golf has been widely talked about as one of the most social-distance- friendly sports there is. But it’s the other sports that don’t lend themselves to as much social distancing while on the field that start in three weeks.