It’s no secret that high school sports have been an essential part of American culture for decades.
It’s also no secret that it’s safer not to play them this year.
The life lessons, confidence, and bonds gained through battling during a season can last a lifetime. But with a disease that has killed more than 160,000 Americans still rapidly spreading throughout the nation, the debate over whether these athletes should return to their respective sports and risk not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones is growing every single day.
Many state athletic associations have allowed for fall practices to start on time, others have delayed the start of fall competition, and some governing bodies have moved fall sports back to 2021.
For many, these games are more than just a way to stay in shape or extracurricular activity that they just plop on their resume. Oftentimes it’s a difference between life and death.
It’s a reality that Eagles’ three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz knows all too well. On Friday, Ertz urged the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) to not cancel fall sports. His thoughts come in the wake of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s recommendation to cancel high school sports in the state until 2021. The PIAA, which is the governing body of high school sports in the state, previously announced that fall sports would be delayed two weeks.
Playing high school sports wouldn’t be safe for anyone but Ertz’s reasoning for playing these sports goes deeper than just sticking to the status quo.
“I was fortunate enough to have football. I was not out on the streets from 3 to 7. I had organization after school, with football and basketball. I couldn’t imagine the path I would’ve gone down if I didn’t have football to express myself,” Ertz told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I want kids to be healthy, first and foremost,” Ertz said. “That’s the primary goal. But I remember being 15 years old with my parents separated. I was the oldest of four boys. I was so frustrated. The only thing that I knew how to do, the only way I could express myself, was playing football.”
As a former four-year varsity athlete and now AAU basketball coach, I’ve seen firsthand the levels of internal stress that kids at that age can deal with and the impact that sports have on these children by allowing them to express themselves.
It’s a tremendous release for these individuals and can be one of the best experiences a child has before entering adulthood, all of that is known and it’s clear.
What is also clear is that this same disease that is currently carrying close to a 3 percent death rate once it is contracted, and killing over 1,000 people a day in our country doesn’t care about how impactful these sports are in children’s lives.
If high school sports return in its entirety, infections will increase, more people will get symptoms and more people will be at risk of dying. It’s that simple.
It wasn’t easy for me to cancel the rest of my AAU basketball season this year after winning our first tournament championship of the season in March. I didn’t want to see an opportunity for my guys slip through the cracks because of factors beyond their control, but it was what had to be done. It was the only adult thing to do in order to protect my guys and their families from the dangers of this evil virus.
Ertz understands the safety dilemma that exists with playing high school sports, but he doesn’t want to see these kids being neglected or without guidance simply because high school sports are gone.
“I would just really challenge everyone. There’s got to be an alternative where we don’t just allow these kids to go through the day with no guidance, with no further investment in them,” said Ertz.
“Obviously, football costs money, So if they were to disband football, where does that money go? I would love to see it invested in these kids to make sure that they’re OK and taken care of, and not on the streets from 3 to 7 [p.m.].”
This could potentially be one of the smartest decisions than anyone in the school districts could make. Schools could use the resources that were designated for high school athletics to set up programs and other socially distanced activities that could give kids another outlet.
Many kids around the country feel that their only way to achieve any level of success is through their athletic gifts but what if you used these resources to help set up more programs that taught kids about different opportunities outside of athletics?
Opportunities in STEM, Business, visual arts, and various other fields could serve as the release that many of these kids would need in a society without high school sports.
it could also give access to a large percentage of minority kids who fall victim to the disparities of resources we see across the country in the educational system.
These initiatives would not only help in the short term but could also provide the building blocks that these kids would need to be successful later in life. Exposing kids with curious minds to new and exciting forms of expression is never a bad idea.
Let’s just be real. It’s obvious that it isn’t safe to go back under the Friday night lights yet.
These schools could make a huge impact by opening up another door of opportunity to many of these high school athletes who may have not had access beforehand.
It’s time for these school districts to do their job. Keep these kids safe and give them an opportunity to thrive, even if that means them thriving off the field.