Blasting Post: COVID-19 pause feels inevitable, if not welcome

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Stow-Munroe Falls' Deon Horn drives to the basket during a game Dec. 8. After this contest, Stow-Munroe Falls paused all sports until January due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 has dominated 2020. No area of life is immune from this pandemic.

The world of high school sports is no exception.

I wrote back in March the shutdown of sports felt like the true beginning of a crisis.

Nine months later, the toll the pandemic has exacted in terms of lives, livelihoods and life events is incalculable.

This past week, Summit County Public Health strongly recommended stopping all youth, collegiate, amateur and club sports after the county reached the purple level on Ohio's COVID scale.

Michael Leonard

I don't profess to know the exact difference between Level 3 Red and Level 4 Purple, but reaching highest level of COVID spread sounds downright scary.

The SCPH's recommendations were enough to convince Stow-Munroe Falls, Hudson, Akron and Copley-Fairlawn to pause their sports. Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Cuyahoga Falls were already on hiatus and will continue to be so.

In the MyTownNEO.com coverage area, only Nordonia and Woodridge continue to play, but both of these districts have had players and teams forced into quarantine.

It's a complete mess.

For those looking to assign blame, however, don't point fingers at coaches or school administrators.

As Stow girls basketball coach Bob Podges put it, COVID-19 is the anvil hanging over this season.

The fact that anvil has fallen on many schools is no surprise.

Hundreds of professional athletes have developed COVID-19 despite testing systems far more rigorous than what local school districts can afford.

If COVID can stop the Ohio State-Michigan game from being played — an event that not even World War II interrupted — what are the odds Stow-Falls or Hudson-Twinsburg can overcome it?

Buckeye fans would say the cancellation is the only way to ensure Jim Harbaugh doesn't lose to Ohio State, but I digress.

When it comes to this pandemic's effect of high school sports, two opposing viewpoints dominate the discussion.

The first view states the obvious: It's just not safe out there.

About 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and millions have been sickened.

In Ohio, infections went from about 1,500 per day in mid-October to 10,000 per day in late November.

Contrary to what some might think, sports fans are paying attention.

A Dec. 10 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 56 percent of sports fans believe people should not be playing indoor sports.

The same poll found that 58 percent of fans believe government officials should be able to place restrictions on indoor sports — and 49 percent of fans believe the Super Bowl should be played without fans.

Little wonder why many high school coaches report some parents have forbidden their children to play this winter.

That said, the opposite view is equally strong: High school will be the last time many athletes play competitive sports — and that time is finite and ticking.

Some in the wrestling community are in a near panic. The focal point of every wrestler's year — the state tournament — was cancelled about 24 hours before it was to start last March.

Wrestlers and coaches are afraid that, in a sport in which social distancing is impossible, it's going to happen again.

My heart still breaks for all those spring athletes who didn't get to play in 2020.

It was a bit of shock to me there weren't more disruptions during the fall season.

Of course with fall sports, there's always a cynical view.

If you tell Ohio sports fans there will be no wrestling, baseball, track or basketball, lots of people will be saddened and upset. However, if you tell Ohio sports fans there will be no football, that's when the torches and pitchforks come out.

Taking away sports and other extracurricular activities is a sure-fire way to decrease morale in schools. For some students, the opportunity to play is a chief reason for attention to their studies.

At the same time, is it worth putting people's health in jeopardy just to play?

Trying to balance these issues has become the job of every local athletic director, superintendent and school board.

I don't envy them. There are no good choices.

Someday, this pandemic will be over.

The vaccines are coming, thank goodness, but health experts are warning it may be spring or even summer before we have COVID-19 under full control.

Until then, everyone should know the drill: Wear a mask, wash/sanitize your hands, keep socially distant social distance and stay home if you feel ill.

Do I wish all the kids could play? Absolutely.

The cost for doing so right now, however, could be far too high.