September 19, 2020

A Pragmatic Look at the 2020 North Carolina High School Football Season

The year 2020 has been a year that will be analyzed by future generations. We all are living through this year together, but in many ways, society has been torn apart.

Many people are living in fear and many people are upset with their “new normal”. People are wondering if we will ever emerge from the COVID-19 era and return to our “old normal”. Many are wondering if they will have a steady paycheck to support their family and lifestyle. Many people are very concerned with racial injustice that has permeated our society in various fashions.

The one aspect that almost everyone seeks regardless of political, cultural, or moral beliefs is hope. We want a society where we no longer live in fear. We want are family, friends, and neighbors to not be at risk of being infected by COVID-19. We want our kids to grow up by interacting with their peers. We want a steady income and we want equality for all.

The one thing that I particularly want is a 2020 high school football season. I want it with all of my heart and soul. It makes me quite sad to think what our kids will miss out should we not have a high school football season.

That being stated, I am a realist. I am prepared to take the bad news that may come down the pike this fall. As such, I want to look at some of the major stakeholders involved with North Carolina high school football.

High school athletes. These kids sacrifice much of their time to come together as one team so they can have success on the gridiron. Many kids would prefer to have fun at the pool or at the local mall instead of sweltering it out in the hot and humid North Carolina sun. Many of these kids are seniors who will never again play competitive football after their senior year football season. These kids strive for success and to earn the praise of their coaches, the fans, their family, and their friends. These same kids are usually healthy too.

Many of these kids need football as an outlet for building self-esteem. All of our kids need discipline in their lives and high school football is one great place to install discipline.

However, many of these kids live in a home where a member (or members) of their family have compromised immune systems. Regardless of the different “studies” and rhetorical memes cited on social media, these kids run the risk of infection and also run the risk of transmitting this infection to members of their family.

Coaches. Coaches do not coach high school football to become rich. Our coaches are driven for the love of the game and the love of their players. The reality is that most coaches will earn less that $1/hour only to be booed in the stands, criticized by parents, and placed under the microscope by their administration. These coaches must also adhere to the NCHSAA rule book which, at times, can be challenging.

Our coaches are competitors and they want our kids to compete at their highest level. Our coaches are also surrogate parents to many of our kids. Life-long bonds are created from the toils, sweat, and tears during practice and on the gridiron.

Our coaches also want the best for our kids. They want our kids to be safe and out of harm’s way. Our coaches also oversee the fields and the locker rooms. As such, the risk of COVID-19 infection increases a certain level from sanitizing the locker rooms. Our coaches also will have interaction with their players who may have been exposed to COVID-19 on the gridiron.

Fans. Throughout the Tar Heel state we have dedicated fans of all ages that have a deep passion for high school football. They love watching our kids “leave it all on the field”. Our fans look forward to the social interaction with their fellow comrades.

We have many fans who are probably in good enough shape to take several snaps on the field. We also have other fans with compromised immune systems. These fans not only run the risk of COVID-19 infection but also from some detrimental health problems if exposed. Social distancing, especially at the entrance points in the stadium, the concessions, and the restrooms will be problematic.

Students. I had a conversation with my other this past weekend about the importance of high school athletics. One of the best way to bond kids of different backgrounds is through athletic events. These games build up school spirit and gives reinforcement to their peers who are playing the game. These games also give non-coaching teachers another way to bond with fellow teachers and students. These students can see another side of their teachers that they had never seen before.

Some students tend to be more socially active than many adults. As such, these certain students run the risk of infection, especially if someone isn’t properly wearing a mask.

Science. Yes, I list “science” as a major stakeholder simply because much of what we do in the “new normal” era evolves around science. Many people will deny or minimize the risks involved with COVID-19. It’s true that the oldest generation is the most at-risk from detrimental effects of COVID-19. However, there’s been much discussion on whether kids can transmit COVID-19 at the same rate as an adult. The bottom line is that transmission of COVID-19 from kid to adult is still a significant risk.

The beauty about science is that we can apply safeguards to minimize, if not eliminate, these risks. Washing hands, wearing masks, and proper social distancing has reduced the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Mind you, these safeguards will merely reduce, but not eliminate, COVID-19 infection.

Non-football athletics. As many have told me countless times over the years, football is a major source of revenue for many athletic programs. If it wasn’t for football, many non-revenue sports would be unfunded. A cut in the revenue stream would have a lingering effect on athletic department budgets for the entire year.

LEAs. Between school districts, parochial schools, and charter schools, we have approximately 160 LEAs across the state. Certain areas of the state have seen widespread COVID-19 infections while other more remote areas have a handful of isolated cases. Some LEAs will have to decide whether to take the risk of allowing their team(s) to participate in a given sport or to simply cancel this season.

So where do we go from here? This is a question that every high school football enthusiast has discussed since April. I don’t have the answer. I, like you, have many questions.

Do we postpone the 2020 football season until later in the 2020-21 school year? This idea has been discussed many times. The bottom line comes from logistics as many schools play teams outside of the Tar Heel state. If South Carolina, Georgia, and/or Tennessee play football this fall, some teams (especially those in the western part of our state) might have to scramble for games. If we would play in the spring, would we reduce the number of games?

Do we reduce the number of games that can be played in the fall? For example, do we reduce or eliminate the number of non-conference games during the season and/or reduce the number of playoff weeks?

Do we allow any fans in the stadiums or do we limit the number of fans that can watch these games? Remember, the less number of fans in the stadium will result in a reduction of revenue. If we do have fans, will the fans be required to wear masks, and if so, will this be enforced at every football stadium?

Will LEAs pull out before or during the season due to COVID-19 infections? Not all LEAs are the same and I know of one LEA that has already shut down their Fall 2020 sports.

My last question is how will we not lose hope for a better tomorrow if we have to postpone or cancel the 2020 season?

I want all of us to come together during these uncertain times. We need to find viable answers to these many uncertainties so we can once again function. Most importantly, we need to give our kids hope that we can rise above petty political arguments and agendas to find a reasonable solution that will reward the sacrifices that many have extolled for our own personal pleasure.

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