Editorial: Details on classes, sports must come soon

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 5, 2020

When Gov. Roy Cooper last week delayed a recommendation about resuming classes, he simultaneously put off a decision about a key component of high school and community life — sports. 

For a large swath of students and community members, sports are about local pride and the thrill of watching good competition. Crowds of parents, friends and students gather in football stadiums on cool Friday nights for football, in gyms on fall and winter evenings for basketball and volleyball and around the diamond in the spring for softball and baseball. Simply put, when classes are in session, sports have  followed with fans in the stands.

For others, there’s a chance of moving to another level of competition with hard work, but sports are otherwise about playing a part in thrilling victories and leaving everything on the field in losses.  For those students, organized sports end after graduation.

For a limited number of talented athletes, top-tier
performance means a pathway to a higher level of competition and/or a college degree. 

But in the COVID-19 era, there’s no denying that the method in which classes return will have a profound impact on whether sports come back in the fall. State sports officials, local athletic directors and coaches will have a hard time justifying to cautious parents that it’s safe to resume sports if classes start back as online-only. 

Even if classes resume in person, there’s no guarantee that players will be able to finish their high school sports careers and seasons. It’s a heart-breaking situation in which there are few good options. 

Reasonable parents and coaches will opt for caution and advocate for no high school sports until the pace of COVID-19 cases declines. No sports means fewer chances to spread COVID-19. College and pro sports are waffling on whether to return as usual or enact COVID-19-specific plans. Why risk the health of teenagers who are not being paid and could pass the virus onto their parents or grandparents? 

But canceling or postponing fall and/or winter sports is a knife through the heart of small towns and communities where schools are a hub of activity and football is a key part of fall Friday nights. It suspends the hopes of squads like Salisbury High School’s football team, fresh off a thrilling run to the high school football championship and returning top-notch talent for another shot at a title.

Because of the time teachers, administrators and other public school staff will need to plan, Cooper can’t wait much longer to offer a recommendation about classes returning. If it hadn’t pushed back the start date to mid-August, Rowan-Salisbury Schools would be just a few weeks away from the new year without final guidance from the state. 

In his announcement, Cooper must also talk specifically about high school sports, offering a specific plan for the fall, a delay to spring or canceling some entirely. Sooner rather than later is good for that, too, because of the importance of high school sports to individual communities.