The effects of the coronavirus are endless, including the sports world. While professional sports are facing struggles, it doesn’t stop there. High school sports are also seeing the results of the virus.
The New Normal
Caylan Koons is a multi-sport athlete. In the summer, she’s typically busy with Junior Olympic volleyball tournaments or AAU basketball events. She’s used to nonstop action. But, like many others, the pandemic has hit the breaks on her active life.
In spring, when her school Springdale Har-Ber shut down, she was left working out on her own.
“It was very difficult at the beginning,” said Koons, an all-state performer in both basketball and volleyball. “But I’m a morning person and very routine-oriented.
“Every day became basically the same for a while. Wake up about 8, get a good breakfast and do the workouts that my coaches sent.”
In current times, she’s back to practicing with her teammates, this time with some interesting restrictions. Practices require social distancing as well as wearing a mask.
“It’s super weird,” Koons said. “You can’t be around anyone. You can’t touch anyone.”
In Arkansas, this is as weird as sports has gotten. But in other states like New Mexico and Washington, the seasons of contact sports like volleyball and football have been flipped to spring. This is in hopes that cases will have subsided by then.
The same is being considered in Louisiana, Virginia, and Michigan. Others like California and the District of Columbia have already pushed sports back until January at the earliest.
The State Of High School Sports
Pushing the season back isn’t a bad idea, says one doctor. Dr. Rand McClain, a specialist in sports medicine, things the delay of contact sports is likely helpful.
“We have more time to learn from others’ mistakes,” said McClain, who owns a practice in Santa Monica, Calif. “We can learn more about the virus and take advantage of treatments that are underway as we speak.”
When it comes down to it though, McClain is for canceling contact sports for high school teams. These schools lack the resources college and professional teams have, like a controlled environment and the finances for advanced testing.
“If you can do the right things, you can prevent it,” McClain said. “I think you draw the line at high school. You know there’s not enough money to do the amount of testing required. Add to that the population you’re dealing with. College, that’s where we’re weighing the maybes.
“But at the high school level, someone’s definitely going to drop the ball. That’s why in my opinion for what it’s worth, I think you draw the line at high school.”
Lance Taylor disagrees. Taylor is the executive director for the Arkansas Activities Association. As of right now, sports are scheduled to start on time.
“We’re prepared to move forward,” Taylor said. “We think we’ve got some guidelines in place that will keep our students safe and that’s our No. 1 goal.”
Just because they’re starting on time doesn’t mean they aren’t open to being flexible. Because Taylor believes sports are a key part of the high school experience, there have even been discussions about extending spring sports into summer if necessary.
“We would look at going into the end of June if that’s what it takes for these kids to have the experiences they deserve,” he said.
While Taylor is flexible, he takes issue with flipping seasons.
“You start moving seasons around, then you start affecting kids who want to play multiple sports,” Taylor said. “We want those kids to have their childhood memories. We don’t want to do what we had to do [this] year.
“College recruiting for these athletes also becomes affected if different states are doing different things. College coaches have specific times to go out and see players.”
This affects athletes like Koons, who is going into her junior year. She already has scholarship offers for both volleyball and basketball. Although, if high school sports were to flip, spring volleyball would conflict with Junior Olympic events, where college coaches look for potential recruits.
On the flip side, Kain Johnson, an all-state quarterback and starting point guard for the Elkins basketball team just wants the chance to play. With no scholarship offer in hand yet, the senior will play in spring if that’s what it takes.
“I’d rather that happen than not play at all,” Johnson said. “I really want to play in college. I don’t know what sport yet, but I don’t know how it will all work out.”
Jeff Conaway is the Shiloh Christian’s athletic director and head football coach. He sees an issue with the season flip, but for a different reason.
“What if we jump in and flop them and then we get a spike in covid cases later and we end up canceling the spring sports,” Conaway said. “Then your baseball program has lost two seasons. The possibilities and obstacles get kind of scary.
“It sounds like that’s just an easy flip. But once you start seeing what it really looks like, it gets cloudy. It’s going to take everybody doing their part.”
Schools are having to get creative. Harrison Athletic Director Chris Pratt said he and coaches are considered a variety of different scenarios. This includes potentially sharing facilities if soccer and football are both played in spring.
“Some spring sports don’t even have schedules done,” Pratt said. “Heck, nobody’s prepared to run a track meet right now. If you’re going to play football in the spring, then turn around and play a full season in the fall. That’s not good for kids either.”
Some players are looking on the bright side. Drew Dudley, a rising senior at Shiloh Christian, has spent the summer rehabbing a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder he suffered in January. He played cornerback for the Saints’ Class 4A state runner-up football team and patrolled center field for the baseball team.
“I think a lot of people are seeing it as a bad thing,” the potential football starter said. “I think I’ve taken good advantage of the time to try and rise above the competition.”
Throughout the struggles, Koons also takes note of the positives.
“I believe God put this in the right spot,” she said. “I needed a rest physically and mentally. Finding that routine, I was pretty proud. I don’t have any siblings. It’s just kind of me. But my parents helped me a lot.”
“I’m definitely trying to stay calm and not stress,” Koons said. “Just trying to go with the flow and see what the future holds and live my life with my family.”