COOK: There are no easy answers to high school sports dilemma in Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Central York's Britlyn Higgins looks to move the ball up the field against Gettysburg during the York-Adams League girls' soccer title game at Northeastern High School on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. The status of 2020 fall sports in Pennsylvania remains uncertain.

I am glad I am older.

I am glad my daughter is grown and successful, living and working in Seattle.

I am glad I don’t have to decide whether to send her to school and allow her to play sports in these COVID-19 times.

I don’t wish that brutal decision on any parent.

I don’t wish the brutal decision on any school board member who has to decide if it’s safe to welcome students back into the schools and on the playing fields.

If health concerns were all to consider, it would be an easy call. I would keep my daughter at home. More than 97,000 kids tested positive for the coronavirus in the final two weeks of July, according to the Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. That is a 40% surge in the nation’s cumulative total.

If that’s not frightening enough, no one knows the long-term impact of the virus on young people. They might recover quickly and be fine. Or they might have health issues for the rest of their life.

Why take a chance?

Why send your kid back to school and put not only them at risk, but also their teachers?

More to consider: But there is so much more to consider than just the safety of kids from the virus. What about their mental health? What about the depression that often goes with staying home day after day? That also has to be a consideration. That’s what makes the decision so difficult.

Kids learn better in school than they do remotely at home. They have more discipline when it comes to their education when they are around their peers. Their teachers are pros, not their parents. And how about the kid whose parents have to work and can’t be at home during the day? What happens to them?

The same is true about playing sports and being involved in a group activity in school. I’m not just talking about football. There are other sports. There are the band members and cheerleaders. There are other clubs that mean so much to their members.

Positive benefits from sports: I want to focus on sports here.

There are so many positive benefits to be a part of a team. Many kids have more drive to do better in school because of sports. They learn discipline and the value of hard work. They learn to pick themselves up when they fall. They learn about teamwork and striving as a group to be the best they can be collectively.

All of that will benefit the team members the rest of their life.

Of course, all of that also complicates the play-or-not-to-play decision that parents must make with their kids.

Wolf and the PIAA: So does Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation — not order — earlier this month that all high school sports be postponed until Jan. 1 because of the potential dangerous impact of the virus.

The PIAA, which wants to go on with sports as scheduled, has delayed making its final decision. Most observers think there is no way the PIAA will go against the governor’s recommendation. Liability will be the deciding issue. Can you imagine a school district’s plight if, say, there is a virus outbreak on a football team after the governor and his medical people have said it is too dangerous to play?

PIAA officials have asked to meet with Wolf to see if they can convince him to back off his recommendation. If the schools are going to be open, why shouldn’t there be sports, right? PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi wrote in a letter last week to Wolf that was obtained by the Associated Press that many school districts in the state have safety protocols in place to put their athletes in the safest possible position. Lombardi pointed out there have been no virus outbreaks this summer that he knows about in youth sports.

“Halting interscholastic athletics will not eliminate the risk,” Lombardi wrote in the letter. “It will simply shift it to other venues that lack sufficient oversight.”

Suggestion that makes sense: One suggestion that makes sense is to move football to the spring and the non-contact sports such as baseball, softball and track to the fall. That’s assuming — and it’s a big assumption — that the virus will be better-controlled in the spring.

I’ve always said if I had a son, I would allow him to play football despite the concussion risks. There is just too much good involved with football to keep him from playing if he wanted to play. To me, the risks are worth it.

But COVID-19? With all of the uncertainty surrounding it? That makes for a much more complicated decision. Good luck to the parents who have to make it.

All I know for sure is a lot of kids will lose if there is no in-school learning and no sports during this school year.