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Hook, Line and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?   Who cares?

The following was excerpted from a press release sent out by the IESA concerning elementary school sports participation this fall.

“After much discussion, the Board unanimously approved to cancel the regular season and IESA state series in the sports of boys and girls golf, boys’ baseball, girls’ softball, and boys and girl’s cross-country for the 2020-21 school year. There are no plans to try and re-schedule the activities or conduct them later in the school year in part due to if and when high schools in Illinois play their contests. Girls softball practice was scheduled to start July 27. The baseball and cross-country seasons were scheduled to start August 3. The Board delayed any decision on girls’ basketball. The first day of girls’ basketball practice is scheduled for August 31. The Board will meet again in late August to make a decision regarding girls’ basketball. The Board did review and approve a plan submitted by the Speech Advisory Committee that allows schools to hold their own speech contest during the upcoming school year. Schools that participate in speech will receive information at a later date. No decisions regarding any other activities were made.”

We know that there will be many people within the school system who will applaud this decision and there will be many who will be strongly opposed. At the forefront of the Board decision is that the activities must be conducted within the current limitations that have been placed on the schools by the IDPH. In particular, the mandate that there can be no physical contact between athletes and that students must be socially distanced (6 ft. of separation) makes the administration and conduct of games and contests very difficult and in some cases impossible to adhere to the mandates. While there are plenty of youth league baseball and softball teams playing games and tournaments this summer, many are not adhering to the same stringent guidelines. Because summer leagues and travel ball are taking place, this may make the decision of the IESA Board of Directors seem odd. The difference is that schools will be held to the IDPH mandates and the youth summer contests are not. It would make little sense for IESA to move forward with these activities that would require schools to be in direct conflict with mandates by state agencies that have regulatory control over the schools.

Ironically, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention had a release of their own, the same day, regarding school closing and its inherent loss of opportunity and access.

“The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children.  Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.  To put this in perspective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.  Although relatively rare, flu-related deaths in children occur every year. From 2004-2005 to 2018-2019, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 to 187 deaths.  During the H1N1 pandemic (April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010), 358 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC. So far in this pandemic, deaths of children are less than in each of the last five flu seasons, with only 64. Additionally, some children with certain underlying medical conditions, however, are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

The CDC went on to note that a reduction in organized and safe physical activity is estimated to be detrimental to the overall health of our children.

When schools are closed, children lose access to important opportunities for physical activity.  Many children may not be sufficiently physically active outside of the context of in-school physical education (PE) and other school-based activities.  Beyond PE, with schools closed, children may not have sufficient opportunities to participate in organized and safe physical activity.  They also lose access to other school-based physical activities, including recess, classroom engagements, and after school programs.

The loss of opportunities for physical activity from school closures, especially when coupled with potentially diminished nutrition, can be particularly harmful to children.  Physical inactivity and poor nutrition among children are major risk factors for childhood obesity and other chronic health conditions.  Over 75 percent of children and adolescents in the United States do not meet the daily physical activity level recommendations (60 minutes or more), and nearly half exceed 2 hours per day in sedentary behavior.  Current models estimate that childhood obesity rate may increase by 2.4 percent if school closures continue to December 2020.

It looks to me like the CDC believes that the potential for harm from not being physically active outweighs the potential for harm from the pandemic, while the IDPH is sticking to its thesis that controlling the pandemic, through their strict adherence to social distancing and crowd size control, is the way to go.  I can’t blame the IESA board of directors.  As they very clearly outlined, they’re regulated by the IDPH, and it would be folly to go against the stated rules of behavior that they’ve been issued.  

I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong in this instance, but I can tell you who cares, for sure.  Besides, me, the athletes, coaches and their families care, that’s who.  According to IESA executive director Steve Endsley, in 2019, there were 8637 baseball participants, 10,042 boy’s cross-country participants and 682 boy’s golfers who participated in IESA events.  On the girl’s side, there were 5,928 softball players, 325 girl’s golfers, and 9,942 girl’s cross-country runners in the IESA.  That’s 35,556 kids, according to my math. Even taking into account that many of the participants are multi-sport athletes, it’s still pretty safe to say that over 35,000 children are being denied an opportunity to shine this fall.   Again, it strikes me that a “one size fits all” response is flawed.  We know that an overwhelming majority of cases are located in Cook and its collar counties, yet the IDPH is seemingly mandating that the response be state-wide, and the IESA is bound to follow their lead.  Unfortunately, it’s probably a road map for the IHSA as well, and I care about that very much, also.   We all should.

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