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Upcoming decision on school sports is difficult

Decisions, decisions. That little phrase used to be a funny way of expressing the struggle of a minor choice in life. It doesn’t seem like there are any “minor” choices these days.

The state, the schools, the Ohio High School Athletic Association and everyone involved in the potential restart of fall high school sports certainly knows the difficulty of a decision in today’s world. There are an endless number of factors to weigh when considering restarting sports, and there doesn’t seem to be a right answer.

After writing tens of thousands of words about this topic, it seems to boil down to this: What’s more important, mental or physical health? It’s a hard question to answer.

So many people rely on athletics for their mental health and overall well-being. The physical benefits of sports pale in comparison to the overall virtues they provide to young people.

There’s the discipline of trusting a coach who student-athletes hardly know in some cases. Believing that strenuous exercises and exhaustive conditioning will eventually lead to long-lasting glory is a hard concept to accept. Putting aside personal gratification and goals for the betterment of the team is a selfless quality only the best teammates can embody. Then there is responsibility, time management, organization and future benefits (college, scholarships, social life, etc.).

The list goes on and on, and in some cases, sports actually protect athletes. Staff writer John Vargo recently interviewed Chaney High School football coach Chris Amill and Warren G. Harding coach Steve Arnold for a story regarding possible changes to football this coming season, and their comments illustrated the importance of sports in some neighborhoods.

“For me, I do get worried when my boys do go home. I had a player’s house which was shot up, not for something that he did, but for a family member,” Amill said. “That shook him up. At least I know when they’re with me, they’re safe. I know during doubles and during the season, they’ll be safe, they’ll be taken care of. …

“For me, that’s probably the scariest part and the hardest part for me to deal with, not having my boys there because I know the environment that is created at practice is safe.”

The world is a scary place right now. For some people, it’s been that way for a long time.

Sports are their safe place. It’s a time to free their minds from all that’s wrong or stressful or sad in life. Taking away that escape can be debilitating on a level I’m not qualified to explain. Neither is the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, but they were smart enough to find someone who was competent in that area.

The organization released a 38-page proposal on July 21, with suggested guidelines for a safe return to football. They quoted Dr. Rachel Charney, a pediatric emergency physician and medical director of disaster preparedness at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, in a story by KMOV-TV in St. Louis.

“The stress, the fear and the uncertainty created by COVID-19 can wear down anyone, and our teens seem to be particularly vulnerable to this,” Dr. Charney said in an interview. “Feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious or angry during COVID-19 can be typical but also can be signs that our teenagers may need more support during this difficult time.”

The isolation of a pandemic can be tough on our kids. Denying them sports won’t help, but it could hurt others.

No one should overlook the other side of this situation. Regardless of what you think about COVID-19, most agree this pandemic is real. The world has been rocked by this virus. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and it’s not over yet. It almost seems trivial to think about sports when human lives are at stake.

There are legitimate health risks to just about all fall sports (volleyball, golf, cross country, field hockey, soccer, tennis), but none more so than football. It’s full-contact, and a lot of times, kids are piled on top of each other, or they’re tackling or blocking another person. Again, I’m not an expert, but it seems likely the transmission of such a virus could increase in those types of situations. It puts people in jeopardy.

Football coaches and players haven’t lost sight of that either. Taking chances is nothing new for athletes and coaches. Tom Pavlansky, the football coach at Lakeview High School and president of the OHSFCA, admits he has wrestled over this issue, but he can’t help but see the importance of athletics to teenagers.

“Obviously, there is a risk. We’re not naive,” Pavlansky said of the OHSFCA. “We don’t have our heads in the sand. But then again, there’s a risk in any sport, whether there’s a pandemic or not. We have to take the best practices that we know and go forward.”

Moving forward has a different meaning these days. Sometimes, moving forward in one area means going backward in another. It’s a fine line to walk in the chaos that is 2020.

For the sake of our youth, I pray we have high school sports this fall. For the sake of our elderly and other at-risk citizens, I pray it’s the right choice.

Decisions, decisions.

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