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Opinion: Students Need (Safe) Sports

As the start of the school year approaches, there has been a lot of focus on whether students should go back to school and if interscholastic athletics should return.

These topics have been discussed repeatedly and it seems clear: There is no one-size-fits-all answer that will satisfy (in no particular order) schools, teachers, coachers, parents and students.

As the state associations that oversee high school athletics in eight states, however, we know the importance of getting our student-athletes back on the courts and playing fields. It has been well documented by the National Federation of State High School Associations that:

  • Students who compete in extracurricular activities have better educational outcomes.
  • These activities are a valuable part of the high school experience, enhancing students’ school engagement and sense of belonging.
  • Extracurricular programs promote positive development and provide opportunities to learn life skills and values not typically taught in the classroom.
  • Active students have many healthier behavior leading to better physical and mental health.

Put simply, our student-athletes need us right now.

However, the return to athletic competition must be done safely. As the United States has battled the current global health pandemic this year, it has become evident that much remains unknown about COVID-19, including how the disease affects children.

“We continue to look for the best way to return to competition as fast as we can while doing so in a safe manner,” said Clark Ray, executive director of the DC State Athletic Association. “This is a critical time in the lives and development of our student-athletes, whether this is the last time they suit up for their team or if they are hoping to go on to play in college. From talking with my colleagues, we all understand the significance of providing structure in a time when so much is uncertain.”

Standing to the side and watching is not what we want to do. Whether it is leading virtual workouts or chalk talks or having small group workouts that are socially distanced, our high school athletic programs are best positioned to help student-athletes retain some structure during this uncertain time.

We know that many club sports programs have resumed activity. It is not known whether all of these clubs have implemented best practices for dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

We have long said that education-based athletics provide the most structed environment for our student-athletes. Our coaches, many of whom are teachers with years of professional training and experience, are the people who are best positioned to lead our student-athletes. We need to be creative and find ways for these coaches to work with their student-athletes as much as possible while remaining safe.

“This is the time to think outside the box and figure out how we can provide the most opportunities for our student-athletes,” Ray said. “This will not be a traditional school year and it will not be a traditional sports calendar. In DC, we are consulting with our public, public charter and private school representatives, as well as public health leaders, to chart a course of action and do whatever we can to get our coaches and student-athletes back on the playing fields and courts.”

Clark Ray is the executive director of the DC State Athletic Association. The DCSAA is part of the National Federation of State High School Associations’ Section II, which is comprised of DC, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

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