The Return of Sports in the COVID Era

As Kennett High School finally returns to in-person learning in a different and more COVID-safe hybrid environment, the NHL and the NBA will also come back from shortened offseasons and training camps. Both leagues are being extremely careful with their COVID protocols, with aggressively enforced masks and social distancing. However, our local NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, have already had issues with the virus, losing most of the team—including Seth Curry, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons—to quarantine restrictions after the formerly mentioned Curry tested positive. With the NHL coming back, the question of whether or not sports can be safe during such a tumultuous time is asked often by many.

Perhaps to start this article, we should take a look at the previous seasons that were played out during the summer by both leagues. Both the NHL and the NBA opted for a “bubble” style league that required all teams playing to travel to a COVID-safe and isolated environment. Both of these “bubbles” were extremely successful, with no COVID cases. However, both of these scenarios were with about half of each league’s teams, as the games were playoffs. Now, both leagues have moved away from the bubble format for the regular season, partly because no sports facility could house the 30+ teams in each sport. Already, the NBA is feeling the effects of the virus, with games being moved or teams playing shorthanded.

It should certainly be mentioned that indeed Kennett High School’s own athletic teams were able to successfully pull off a COVID-safe fall season. Players were masked almost all the time, and social distancing was enforced. We ran into minimal real issues and were able to successfully play through a shortened and modified season. To quote Kennett Athletic Director Sean Harvey, “Having the students practicing together safely with the new protocols that are put in place has proven to be very successful, and the credit goes to the coaches and the athletes.” Our neighbors in Unionville were not so lucky. Both the varsity men’s football team and the women’s soccer team were prevented from participating in their district 1 playoff games after members of the team tested positive for the virus, forcing the rest of their teams into quarantine.

When discussing sports and if they should continue at both the professional and the high school levels, it is important to consider both the pros and the cons. At the professional level, many sports teams are key in their local economies. Televised sports are also a welcome release for many fans who have nothing else to do while staying at home and helping to keep case numbers down. At the high school level, sports are often a way for many students to take their minds off of their academics while staying healthy and having a safe outlet for the energy that many students possess. To again quote Mr. Harvey, “the mental health aspect is extremely important for the athletes as well as the coaches and the parents.” On the other hand, COVID can be spread via sporting events even if standard precautions are taken. Even if the athletes will most likely not have to deal with serious symptoms, their families may be at a higher risk. We’ve already seen cases impacting the families of professional athletes.

Hopefully, sports will be able to safely return and give us all some much-needed entertainment during an otherwise dull winter. Vaccines are being handed out and this international nightmare will (ideally) be just about finished by the end of the summer.

— Martin Heintzelman