Pressure on June 8
Before I get into specifics regarding the matter at hand (whether it is appropriate for high schools to commence football practice in early June), let me set the context associated with making that decision. In doing so, you won’t read the word, ‘football,’ until much later in this article.
The past months have taken their toll on everybody. Illness, death, lost jobs, food shortages, and much more have put pressure on households and families in ways that we haven’t seen since The Great Depression. Circumstances have forced people and families to function in novel ways.
And while the pandemic has affected all families, it has put extra pressure on families with school-age children. Children have lost their schooldays which is critical because schools provide essential functions. Yes, academics is one, but schools contribute in many other ways, including offering children social and non-academic activities and development opportunities.
Not having those functions means students suffer a sense of loss. Think of athletes who lost their spring season or the winter athletes who had championship quests cut short. And what about artistic students? They no longer have access to school supplies, stages, mentors, and exhibits. All the while, children have had to adapt to this new order by doing without their peers and favorite teachers.
There’s even more to this complex picture.
Consider the pressure on families of middle and high school students who are still out of school and–as of this writing–are still unsure what the fall will bring.
With the virus still present, parents have had to structure days for their children. Instead of going to work and entrusting their child to a school, parents have had to become ‘the school.
What’s more, families have been isolated–and will continue to experience gradations of isolation—until a virus vaccine is widely available.
I thought about all these circumstances as I read an Observer article announcing that two local independent schools will begin “a modified version of a summer program” for football, starting June 8. To make this news even harder to digest is that it comes at a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations experienced a two-week spike.
I shook my head even harder when I read a quotation from one of the head coaches: “I’m a big believer in parents doing what is best for their kid. If you want to send them, come on, and we’ll do it as safety [sic] as we can and get the most out of them.”
In the article, I read that schools say they will take safety procedures, such as continually cleaning equipment. No locker rooms will be used, which means players will have to prepare for practices and take showers at home. A limited number of players will be allowed on a field at a time. Players will be required to wear gloves.
But for me, those answers raise more questions. For instance, how will personal hygiene be safeguarded when a player rides home with sweaty gear?
But what concerns me most is what I’ll write about now: there’s a blatant disregard for family welfare and the pressure it puts on families with children who have football aspirations. How?
First, the opening of the practice season wasn’t extended with an invitation. It was more like an ultimatum. Any student who wants a spot on the team knows that presence and performance matter. Getting a shot at playing requires showing up and demonstrating skills.
Second, children are “stomping at the bit” to return to some degree of what they knew before.
Third, football is an extremely high-profile, public activity that carries rewards, including community-wide adulation.
With all that stacked against parents, what any parent believes or prefers probably won’t matter–especially if a son pleads to play.
What happened here? Two schools made self-serving decisions by dangling something of great value before prospective players. But just like anything that dangles, strings are attached. These strings carry risk.