Canceling sports, closing schools are the only way out of this mess

Who could’ve imagined back in March that we might have to go an entire year without high-school sports?

First, the spring season was wiped out due to COVID-19. Then came fall sports. Now we’re all collectively crossing our fingers that there will be a winter sports season. But, at this point, would you put any money on basketball and wrestling being able to start in late December? 

I’m not trying to go all pessimistic again, but with predictions of a harsh second wave of the virus this winter, we could be staring at a lost year — not just for high school sports, but all sports.

The college and pro football seasons are on the brink, with players from all over the country congregating at training camps and inevitably sharing infections with one another. A number of small-school leagues, such as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — home to Central Washington University’s teams — shut everything down last month, while most Division I programs have gone to conference-only schedules.

The Mid-American Conference became the first big-school division to cancel its entire fall season, and the Pac-12 and Big Ten followed suit about a week later. We can only assume that the dominos will continue to fall until football fans are left watching 2019 highlights and praying for games next spring, just like their high school counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the NFL isn’t in a whole lot better shape. As of early August, 56 players had tested positive for COVID-19, which means dozens — if not hundreds — more cases are soon to be discovered. Once teams start playing preseason games (if they play at all), the spread will accelerate and difficult decisions will need to be made.

Will the nation’s most popular sports league follow the lead of high school and college programs, or just power through like Major League Baseball has done? With billions of dollars in revenue at stake, it’s hard to see the league simply pulling the plug. 

Perhaps the players will accept the inherent risks of playing a high-contact sport during a pandemic, but I have a feeling the virus will ultimately dictate what happens — kind of like what happened with public schools in the South. 

After rushing to open and failing to institute proper safety precautions, they’re all shutting down again as their communities become overrun with coronavirus infections. (Masks optional? Seriously? Even after everything we’ve learned the past few months?) 

This scenario could have repeated itself here in the Yakima Valley, but as a parent of two school-age children, I’m glad our local superintendents and school boards agreed to keep classes online-only this fall. 

You don’t have to like the decision, and you can blame whomever you choose. But the fact is, closing the schoolhouse doors — just like the excruciating decision to suspend fall sports — was the only responsible course of action our educational leadership could take. Preserving the safety of our kids and the community at-large took precedence over everything else, and I tip my cap to our state and local leaders for having the courage to do the right thing.

The same goes for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which did what it had to do in a time of crisis, while leaving the door open for a return to the field in the winter and spring.

As painful as the current state of affairs is for athletic directors, coaches, athletes and fans at all levels, we can take solace in the fact that sports will eventually return. They may or may not be back later this year, or even next spring, but they will be … someday.

That’s what I keep hanging onto. I don’t know what I’m going to do without soccer games to officiate this fall, especially after a lost spring. I’m also going to miss writing about the Selah High School teams and taking photos at their events. I don’t even want to think about how to fill the massive void on the weekends without football. But, like millions of other fans around the country, I’ll figure out a way. 

The most important consideration should be the health and safety of everyone involved, and it’s good to see most decision-makers approaching the situation this way. So, as we prepare for a fall semester unlike any other, try to keep in mind that all of these cancellations and postponements are the only way we will ever find our way out of this quagmire. 

The alternative is to throw everyone to the wolves, and we saw how that worked out for the schools in the South. I much prefer the cautious approach so life can get back to normal …

Someday.

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