Imagine you are a high school student at Westford Academy in 2020. So much has been abruptly taken away from your high school experience, but there is still one fun possibility: sports. You have recently received news that Massachusetts voted to go through with high school sports this winter. But, then one week before tryouts, you hear that even though sports are voted safe by Massachusetts, your school district still might not let you play. How would you feel?
This is the situation WA’s student athletes are facing right now. Even though Governor Baker and the MIAA voted in favor of sports, WA is still uncertain if this is a good idea for our community. This is extremely disappointing to all WA athletes. Tonight, the school committee will vote on winter sports and whether or not they compete this winter.
In my opinion, I think sports should be able to happen at WA. I understand that this is a difficult decision, but I feel that a lot of the benefits to having a season are not as obvious as one might think.
The main thing that I struggle with is how not having a winter season affects future recruitment options for student athletes. Some of these kids, especially juniors, are relying on this season for college coaches to see their skills. How are coaches going to see WA’s talent if they are left out of the season while other schools in the Dual County League as well as Massachusetts are allowed to go forth? The simple answer is they probably won’t. This decision could seriously affect students’ futures.
Next, I think a very valid point is the state of student mental health. We have had little to no in-person interaction with our friends since March. This situation has taken a massive toll on students’ mental health across the country. Even before the pandemic, students looked to sports as outlets to relieve school and home-related stresses. Now that there is stress from a worldwide pandemic, I believe that it is even more crucial to give students a place to release stress and have fun.
WA senior Ellie Nolan sums up what sports mean to not only herself but all senior winter sport athletes.
“I am a senior captain for the Westford Academy girls’ basketball team, and I have been playing the sport since I was three years old; it has become who I am. Running out on the court for my senior year has been keeping me smiling when everything around me has been tearing me down. The rules created by the MIAA are safe and our team will work hard to keep the people around us healthy. Please don’t take this away from us when so much is already gone,” senior captain Nolan said.
This is a perfect example of just how much sports mean to one individual.
Also, allowing winter sports was a very seriously discussed topic throughout high schools in Massachusetts; the MIAA did not take this lightly. Therefore, there are strict regulations that all teams will follow. These rules help because, then, we will know that everyone is being safe. If school sports get cancelled, students will still likely be competing in their sports on club or AAU teams. These games are a lot less regulated, and the Westford community will have no idea what set of rules are in place and if they are even being followed.
The last thing is that having a winter season will give students an incentive to follow COVID-19 guidelines even more thoroughly than they would have before. It will keep all student-athletes responsible for not only their own actions, but also the people they surround themselves with. Everybody wants a season, and students know what is at stake if they do not adhere to Massachusetts guidelines, making it more likely that students will avoid high risk situations.
I have also reached out to numerous WA winter sports athletes and asked them to share their reasons for why having a winter season would be important to them. I was flooded by members of all teams with an immense amount of passion, stories, and factual reasoning. I am amazed with how much this means to all WA’s student athletes.
You can also see all of the students and community members. who were not able to be quoted here, who signed this petition
I understand that we not only have a responsibility to these students, but also the school and community as a whole. Even knowing that, I hope we all are able to read through this information and really see that the issue at hand is not just sports. These are real kids with real friendships and real mental health issues at stake.
Lastly, I would like to suggest a solution that will hopefully make everyone comfortable. I believe WA sports should go ahead as initially planned by the MIAA, until there is solid evidence suggesting COVID-19 outbreaks occur from specific sports. If and when there is solid evidence in the future, I feel like this conversation should be reassessed.