Letter to the editor: basketball captain shares views on sports cancellations

Westford Academy Girls' Basketball Captain Carly Davey submitted this "letter to the editor" to the WA Ghostwriter team on the decision to cancel hockey and basketball for the 2020 winter season.

December 22, 2020

Junior+Carly+Davey+charges+down+the+court%2C+controlling+the+ball.

provided by Carly Davey

Junior Carly Davey charges down the court, controlling the ball.

My name is Carly Davey, and I am a junior captain of the Westford Academy girls’ basketball team. On December 7, the school committee voted to suspend basketball and hockey for this year. Although I understand that this decision was difficult, the process by which it came about was unfair to athletes and coaches. Only part of this story has come to light, and I feel that it is necessary for the full truth to be shared.

When the sports section of the school committee meeting began, the first person to speak was Superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen. His recommendation to the school committee was clear cut: allow swim and dive, gymnastics, nordic ski, and alpine ski, but no basketball or hockey. The recent spike in cases as well as wanting all students back in school were the main reasons explained, however, he did not mention any data specifically about cases coming directly from basketball or hockey, or any other sports for that matter. 

The next speakers to talk included four doctors on the Westford Covid Task Force, all of which supported Mr. Olsen. I was extremely disappointed in the way Dr. Michelle Travassos and Dr. Andrew Popelka talked about competing with other towns. When speaking about having a different town come to the school, Travossos mentioned “we’ll have kids from Waltham, for example, coming here.” Dr. Popelka also commented that “adding sports with outside towns, [like] Waltham, [will have] people coming in on buses.” Why is playing Waltham High, now mentioned twice, an example of why sports are dangerous and a way Covid could be spread? Westford would not have been playing Waltham this season, and many other schools are already listed on our schedule. Why were they more concerned about Waltham than Concord-Carlisle or Acton-Boxborough? 

The first to speak on behalf of those for winter sports was Dr. Rebecca Rosenstein, the mother of both a past WA boys basketball player and a present one. Her goal was the same as the school committee members’: get all kids back in school. However, unlike the previous speakers, Dr. Rosenstein took a different approach: “It is my hope that if we can have a successful indoor basketball season safely […] then we will have some evidence that we can be more aggressive in having our children back in school.” I recognize that this is the objective of many in the Westford community, and I am no exception. But, what’s the plan? What are ideas to get all kids back in school? Here, Dr. Rosenstein was trying to present a suggestion that favored both sides of the argument, where having a successful basketball season could in turn provide evidence to allow more students back into school. All anyone had been asking for is a chance to try out the season, knowing that it possibly could be shut down. 

The rest of the doctors who provided feedback were invited to talk multiple times throughout the meeting, however Dr. Rosenstein was not. I understand that she was not on the Covid Task Force, but was that the only reason? I would have appreciated having Dr. Rosenstein in the meeting for as much time as the other doctors, as she could have added a different perspective to the situation at hand. 

Students from the various sports teams were able to speak next. Before the meeting began, Gloria Miller, the head of the school committee, limited us to two minutes each, unlike the previous guests who had not been given a specific allotted time for their voice. Although I understand that she could not let the meeting run all night, I wish that Ms. Miller divided the time more equitably among those for and against basketball and hockey. Meghan Mulhurn and Sean Milanette spoke on behalf of hockey, while Ellie Nolan and I represented basketball. We spoke passionately, and tears were shed along the way. Hannah Macey and Brian Ellis, the student representatives of the school committee were also very supportive of winter sports for all athletes. Unfortunately, Gloria Miller, the head of the school committee, only allowed these two to speak of their concerns once each, despite the other school committee and Covid Task Force members getting many chances. Why allow the student representatives on the committee in the first place if they can’t speak to represent their peers? 

Next up was Principal James Antonelli, who agreed with Mr. Olsen and his recommendations. Athletic director Jeff Bunyon also spoke, but offered a different opinion than his colleagues. Although Mr. Bunyon addressed the concerns for basketball and hockey, he made sure to mention how the MIAA’s new rules are designed for safety and regulation, including mandatory mask wearing, no locker rooms, and breaks for sanitization. He also noted that neighboring DCL schools plan to try and allow the kids to play this winter, and we never were able to get a clear understanding of how Westford differed from these other towns in any substantial way in terms of Covid risk from sports. 

As the vote neared, committee members Sean Kelly, Mingquan Zheng, and Chris Sanders offered questions and comments regarding possible creative ideas in order to get basketball and hockey off the ground. One of these being a contract, in which athletes sign to not break Covid safety rules, like attending parties and eating unmasked with friends at restaurants. However, Ms. Miller dismissed these ideas pretty quickly as they were too “difficult to enforce,” and Mr. Antonelli agreed, despite all of the athletes saying previously that they would do whatever it took to have a season. These ideas along with the commitment of students should have been taken into more consideration by decision makers. 

Despite the over 1,000 petition signatures, 37 pages of personal statements, multiple student and parent speakers, and over 30 school districts continuing on with all winter sports, four Westford school committee members decided that basketball and hockey would not be allowed to try for the upcoming winter sports season. Read those numbers again. 

However, it is what has come after the school committee meeting that makes me the most upset. I have felt certain emotions these past two weeks that I never felt in my life. 

A simple fact: actions speak louder than words. Ms. Miller commented at the meeting that she is “concerned about the mental health and wellness of all of our students,” yet to date, there have not been any resources offered to basketball and hockey student athletes whose season the school committee just voted to take away. 

After watching the first ten minutes of the meeting, it seemed like the decision had already been made before it started. Mr. Olsen’s recommendation to the school committee had already been made before any of the student athletes were given the opportunity to express their opinion on the matter. Since the recommendation may have already been decided and shared, student athletes should have been notified before the meeting took place. 

All of the administrators and members of the different committees expressed how bad they felt for having to cancel the season for basketball and hockey student athletes, but in the days that followed, none followed up with us in any way. I have received more emails and text messages from parents whom I have never met than from administrators whose school system I have been in for the last 12 years. In fact, no administrators or committee members reached out to any of the basketball or hockey speakers. There were four of us who spoke on behalf of a winter sport that was cancelled, and not one of us received an email or in-person follow up. That is inexcusable. 

I wish the Westford Academy’s swim and dive, gymnastics, nordic ski, and alpine ski teams the best of luck during their seasons this year, as well as the rest of the hockey and basketball teams across Massachusetts. Please remember to cherish every second, as you never know when your passion could be taken away at any moment.

9 Comments

9 Responses to “Letter to the editor: basketball captain shares views on sports cancellations”

  1. Alicia Sepe on December 22nd, 2020 9:33 pm

    Fantastic letter Carly! Thank you for being such a great student athlete representative for the Westford Academy athletic community.

  2. Tim Baney on December 22nd, 2020 9:54 pm

    Carly is my niece, she is so polite and fun and friendly. I’m sorry it came to this: that a student had to sort through the madness of your decision making process. I’d like note that she noticed the decision appeared to have been made before the meeting. You can’t fool kids, they notice. Children are the biggest victims of COVID panic, school closures, and lockdowns. Carly is a superstar, and you are failing her.

  3. Bridget Peterson on December 22nd, 2020 11:41 pm

    Among the most important points that Carly made is the fact that not a single representative has reached out to the student-athletes who were most effected by the school committee’s decision. These kids are more than their academics and without their sports, social lives, peer interactions, etc., they are suffering. More of an effort should have been made to allow basketball & hockey to proceed and, in the absence of any season at all, counselors should have been made available to the athletes.

  4. Carolyn Bucci on December 23rd, 2020 5:33 am

    Carly is my cousin’s daughter and an amazing young lady. Across the country decisions like this are being made that are not backed by science or statistics. These kids are losing out on life and it’s times they will never get back. You are failing them by making this decision. I think they should give it a go. Let the girls sign a contract and have them be responsible to each other. What have you got to lose. If it causes a covid spike, which it won’t, you shut it down. Physical activity is necessary for good mental health especially for athletes. This pandemic is toughest on kids stuck in the house. Do the right thing. School politics never cease to amaze me

  5. Nora Culver on December 23rd, 2020 9:01 am

    I have to say I never expected winter sports to be the hill that people are willing to die on.

    Many people have been vocal in their distress or frustration with the choice to cancel some of these activities and it feels like the same voice being heard again and again so I will try to speak to my opinion on it as someone who has both played sports and experienced severe health issues.

    First of all I personally cannot blame the school board for prioritizing the safer side of the advice of the doctors on the Westford Covid task force, even in the face of other opinions. Their job is to choose the safest possible option, not the option that will hopefully maybe not hurt anyone. Likewise I can’t blame them for choosing not to go by the word of an athletic director who himself disregarded the guidelines to attend a packed lacrosse “scrimmage” at the beginning of the summer. This is not a secret.

    Please understand that the school can’t only weigh the feelings and safety of one group of kids in the school, they have to (or at least should) consider the safety of the entire school, including the teachers and their own families. You may be ready to trust everyone on the hockey and basketball teams of WA to sign contracts and respect the guidelines, and maybe you’re right, but many in the school are not willing to take that gamble, especially if they are close to people who are high risk. I find it telling that among the students representing this issue at the school board meeting, several have exposed themselves to the virus indirectly and at least one has had it. In fact there’s a considerable overlap between the demographic of students who are riding for winter sports right now and the demographic of students who have been ignoring the covid guidelines since day 1 and seeing their friends for months. Once again this is not a secret.

    It’s a rough situation and I won’t pretend the removal of sports wouldn’t have a negative effect on some student’s lives overall. As the captain of a different postponed winter sport I truly get the disappointment that comes with a gutted season but when taken in perspective with what’s going on outside of Westford, I frankly think this is a great problem to have. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely believe the school and district should be offering more mental health support to its students and points about transparency and communication from the school and board are valid. I’m not trying to downplay the importance that hockey or basketball might have in someone’s life and identity. I do however think that one group of student athletes should not be the center of the discussion of mental health in this town.

    To Carly, although I fundamentally disagree with you on this issue, I respect you for writing this letter. Its clear to see that this is something that you’re extremely passionate about and I truly wish for you a wonderful winter season your senior year next year.

  6. Jane Davey on December 23rd, 2020 5:49 pm

    I am Carly’s grandmother
    Good for you Carly! I am so proud of you for having the
    strength and courage to speak up and state your case.
    There are many sides to most every decision and
    controversy
    It seems that here as is many other human interactions
    it not so much what was done but how it was done.
    I would conclude that the feelings and needs of the
    students affected were of very little or no concern to the decision makers.
    Good luck to you Carly and all the basketball and hockey
    team members
    Better days ahead!
    Grandma

  7. Hannah Macey on December 23rd, 2020 11:07 pm

    To carly; I am so proud of you
    To the Westford school leadership; Do better. We see what has been said, and what has been done. We pay attention, and we are watching the facts. We know when the students are not being listened to and we feel how we are treated as children while the goal is for us to grow into adults. This fight is not just about sports, it’s about everything this community has taken away and the lack of trust, resources, and support. We need to work together and students must be included in every fight this community will face. We must do better.

  8. Bobby Moulton on December 24th, 2020 12:31 am

    BRILLIANT! DO NOT STOP! Stay the course and follow your heart. The adults are WRONG! You couldn’t be more right.

    BELIEVE that common sense will win out.

    You are an inspiration!!!!!

    Please please please stay the course.

    Your leadership will be rewarded!!!!

    Please let me know how I can help.

    Bobby Moulton
    (978) 360-3133

  9. Julie (Silton) Wysocki ( parent of 4 prior WA students and athletes) on December 25th, 2020 1:12 pm

    Carly,
    Your statements are articulate, passionate & right on! NBA seems to be playing! Why is that?
    Your observations of the dynamics and lack of follow thru of administration also seem to be right on. Such a shame. You truly are a very talented & driven young lady & student. I am so sorry for the loss of being unable to enjoy your senior basketball season.
    Only suggestion is to think “outside the box”
    Perhaps put together a new plan outlining all safety measures (like NBA) smaller districts, shorter season etc and request special session to present 👍🏻💪🏻💪🏻🙏🤞 Perhaps administration would also welcome a second chance to do better 😡
    Whatever outcome, stay strong safe healthy and happy!! Love you for you!👍🏻💪🏻💖👍🏻💪🏻💖
    Miss Julie

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