No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.
In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more.
The postponement of fall sports as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has led to a mixed bag of emotions for DMV parents. As the debate of whether student athletes should be allowed to play rages on, parents appear to be finding like-minded individuals and forming teams of their own.
Suffice to say most adults would agree that acting in the best interest of children is always of the utmost importance, and especially now in the days of COVID-19. What constitutes "best interest," though, depends on who's being asked.
Parents of student athletes have concerns ranging from whether the postponement will hurt their child's chances of earning a scholarship to fears of the emotional effects of not being with their team to the overall health and well-being of not only their child but the entire community.
In general, parents fall into one of three camps. They either:
a.) Strongly disagree with the fall sports postponements and believe the decision to do so is both unnecessary and detrimental to the progression of their student athlete.
b.) Strongly agree with the delay and find fault in the thought of placing athletics over the value of life – anyone's life.
c.) Or they're unhappy with the postponement but understand why it's necessary.
The journey of a student athlete isn't light, it requires travel of countless miles -- oftentimes figuratively and literally -- late nights doing homework and weekends consumed with games. This is especially true if the goal of the student athlete is to earn a college scholarship.
Chuck Henrich is the father of rising senior Colin Henrich, who recently announced his transfer from St. John's College High School to IMG Academy. Chuck has seen his son give his all to football since he was a boy and fears this chapter of Colin's life won't end the way he pictured it.
"This year is supposed to be the completion of a dream and goal he's had since youth football. He's put the commitment in and made the sacrifice and he was truly looking forward to completing the chapter and having that ‘final ride off into the sunset' moment," Henrich said. "More importantly, as he's evolved, he was looking forward to being a leader at St. John's. The program has a lot of tradition and meaning that he's bought into. This is bigger than him and bigger than his success. It's about team."
Henrich understands the dangers of COVID-19 but feels teenagers are paying the price for the protection of the elderly.
"The kids are sacrificing for the adults; those that are at the highest risks," Henrich said. "There's no question that the statistics would indicate that older people are dying at a much higher rate than anyone else, but based upon that, the rest of the world was required to shut down, and football became the poster child of the shut down."
Henrich is a volunteer youth football coach for his younger sons' team, and believes football helps to develop student athletes off the field as well. He says athletics play an integral role in their ability to thrive in life and is concerned what may come of the young men if it's taken away completely.
"For a large portion of our team, all the structure and anything they have left in the world [due to the pandemic] is football," Henrich said. "School and life is difficult, and this is an outlet for them to be able to look forward to something. To have a goal and to have structure in life helps them and guides them on how to sleep, how to eat and how to train. For their age range, football and this structure is really important because they could go in a different direction where the outcome isn't positive."
Despite the potential social, academic and athletic hurdles a postponed or canceled season may cause, there are parents who find that the risk associated with participating in athletics during a pandemic, outweigh the benefits.
Sharon Carrera-Williams is the mother of Gonzaga senior defensive tackle, Joshua Williams. Joshua is a stalwart in the middle of the Eagles' defensive line and is set to be an important piece in Zaga's bid for a WCAC championship. Nonetheless, Williams does not believe her son should be playing football in the fall.
"The risk of even one child getting infected because of sports is not worth it," Williams said. "As much as we are disappointed with the delay, in the end, it's safety first. These athletes have a lot of competing ahead of them and once this virus is under control, they will be out on their respective fields competing again."
Although there are differing opinions on how dangerous the virus is for otherwise healthy teens, the student athletes playing the sport wouldn't be the only ones at risk of infection. As Jennifer Rheeling, chair of the DCSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee said, it takes a village of individuals to facilitate an athletic event, and they'd all be in danger.
"A confounding factor is assuming the risk for a parent or for their child also puts others at risk. It may not be the student athlete that becomes critically ill or dies, but a coach, referee, athletic trainer may," Rheeling said. "No one has the right to assume that risk for someone else. And no adult should have to choose between their life or their livelihood."
Not Happy, But Understand
Life and the emotions felt therein are not marked with such distinct lines as a playing field. For that reason, there is another group of parents who want their children to play, yet fully understand why it's best they do not. Mark McCain and Carlo Anderson are fathers and friends who have sons that are rising seniors at C.H. Flowers. The young men have grown up together playing sports, and the thought they may not be able to finish what they started so many years ago is difficult for the fathers to fathom.
"I'm heartbroken," McCain said. "My son and his class is a very special class to me. I've been intimately involved with the development of hundreds of kids who have had visions of this since they were 7-year-olds."
McCain is not only the father of Old Dominion University commit Jalen McCain, he also has served as a youth and high school coach and presently operates Athletic Republic where he assists in the training of countless DMV student athletes who are affected by the pandemic.
"So many of our kids who can play football at the next level don't get in front of coaches until their senior year, so this season is of the utmost importance to them. Everybody doesn't develop and get college notoriety at the same rate. So, a lot of the kids who can go to FCS, D-II or D-III school under scholarship aren't going to be able to get seen in the traditional sense."
Anderson's son, Jalend, fits into that category. A highly-skilled and productive ATH, Jalend is set to break down the recruiting doors in what should be his senior campaign. The elder Anderson struggles with the thought he may not be able to witness Jalend accomplish his goals.
"I'm very emotional about it. Do I understand why? Yes! Do I agree with it? No!" Anderson said. "It's kind of me being selfish, because the thought of not being able to see him on that platform playing high school football again is devastating.
"We as parents, though, have to be really strong and stay positive for our athletes. All our kids know and love is sports, and taking that away, not only does it hurt them -- especially those looking to catapult themselves to the next level -- but it definitely hurts us as parents as well to not see them play."
Parents are not the only ones who are missing out on seeing student athletes play. The NCAA dead period has prohibited college coaches from making in-person visits to players as well. Without game film, a significant fear of parents is that their child's recruitment will be hurt with the postponement. McCain, though, believes there are answers to this problem if the athletic community is willing to look for them.
"There are other ways we can get them exposed. The college coaches still have plans to fill their roster. They still have to recruit. They still have to do their job," McCain said. "We're all going to find ways to work through this.
"Again, I'm so heartbroken for all of our kids and all of those families and all of those programs across the nation who have worked so hard to get to this point, but it's bigger than that. We can work together as a community and figure this out. Some sacrifices are going to be made, and I don't say that in a flippant way. I'm not willing to sacrifice your life, a referee's life, another parent's life so that these kids I love dearly and have invested in can play football."
McCain admits he too has also struggled at times while helping his son with distance learning. He acknowledges that it is challenging for Jalen to not be at school surrounded by his friends, and says there is nowhere he'd rather be on a Friday night than watching his son play the game they both love. But he knows that ultimately they will get through it.
"All of these things present challenges, but they're just challenges," McCain said. "There's a level of discomfort we feel -- but I'd rather be in discomfort in my home with my son bouncing off the walls, working with him at the kitchen table and having him have to work out in the basement or run outside to get his workout in. I'd rather deal with those challenges than need to think about those families who didn't get to see their loved ones dying or get to see them as soon as they were deceased to pay their final respects -- give me the challenges."
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MORE PLAYING THROUGH COVID
- Options: Emerging from postponed football
- Recruiting: Impacted by the coronavirus
- How sports can return: A doctor's take