Contributor: The Nerd
It just about one year ago, a few days before the official start of fall practices, when OPS announced they were postponing their fall sports seasons. OPS may have thought that other Class A school districts would follow, but none did. As the spread of the Delta variant grows, OPS is now making plans for how it will address COVID in the upcoming school year. Will it be an outlier again and choose to curtail athletic events? It's tough to predict, because few expected last year's decision.
In mid May 2021, after Districts but prior to the State track meet, I posted the following thread on Twitter. Let's hope that OPS remembers that athletics play an important role in keeping kids in school, and its decision last year had a devastating impact on many OPS students.
Last September I wrote about OPS' decision to cancel fall sports, including XC. OPS athletes and coaches were devastated, while virtually every other high school program carried on with COVID-safe protocols. Here's the original article.
The easiest solution was to cancel the fall season. The NSAA took the more difficult path, and it committed to doing whatever it took to give kids opportunities. Over 90% of all scheduled FB and VB games were played, and there were no reports of outbreaks from an XC meet.
Off the record, coaches from inside and outside OPS predicted the worst for OPS athletes. Coaches often double as mental health counselors and surrogate parents, but last fall OPS restricted them from talking to kids outside the teacher/student relationship.
Without the daily structure and accountability of athletics, coaches predicted lower grades, poor personal choices and the end of athletic participation. That seems accurate - only 4 of the 10 XC athletes I interviewed were on a T&F team this spring.
Five of the 10 athletes I interviewed had hoped to run in college. Only 2 ran T&F this spring, and both have struggled to regain the form from fall 2019 that had led to interest from colleges. The top prospect, with hopes of a top-5 finish last fall, is no longer running.
T&F participation this spring is down at least 30% at most OPS schools. Several did not field all three relay teams at Districts due to lack of depth. A few didn't even need a bus to transport their limited roster to Districts.
At Class A Districts, from the 7 OPS schools with enrollment of over 10,000 students, 4 boys and 0 girls ran the 3200, while 8 boys and 5 girls ran the 1600. As many as 21 OPS boys/girls could have run each race.
What's the impact on T&F from the OPS cancelled fall sports seasons? It hurt girls the worst. In 2019 60 OPS girls athletes and relay teams qualified for State; in 2021 that number is 30. Boys were not impacted as badly, with a drop from 49 to 40.
This was not a sports issue in the fall, and it still isn't. XC/T&F is often the most diverse team in large schools. It's a safe space for immigrants; limited English skills are not a barrier to participation. It's not exclusionary; there are no cuts, and JV meets abound.
Seek out an OPS coach - ask them what the impact has been from the fall cancellation. It's not pretty. They lost a chance to get freshman interested in running. They lost one last chance to mold seniors into adults.
The majority of OPS kids don't lament the lost chances for medals, titles or an athletic letter. More importantly, the kids lost their chance to be part of something that mattered. A second family. Coaches and teammates who looked after them.
The next time someone tells you that sports don't matter in high school, tell them what Adam Ali told the OPS board. “Protect me from the drug dealers in my neighborhood. Protect me from the gunshots I hear so often. Danger has never closed the door for success until now.”
Remind them that some kids don't really like school, but sports gets them engaged and keeps them enrolled. It gets them to graduation. It teaches them resilience. It teaches them to be a better person. It gives them life.