Sports cautiously anticipated
Fall sports remain in question just weeks until practices are scheduled to begin, but Hillsboro volleyball coach Sandy Arnold thinks her sport can be low-risk, if proper precautions are taken.
Hillsboro volleyball camp started Monday for students in third to eighth grades. Arnold is using the opportunity to see how the high school team might operate this fall.
“I want to keep the kids safe,” she said. “I want to keep everyone safe. We’ve gone to a few leagues this summer, and I took some ideas from them.”
Assessing risk is largely about how close athletes are forced to stay throughout competition, according to county health department consultant Don Hodson, a longtime Marion physician. Sports like football that have extended amounts of close interaction naturally carry greater risk, he said.
“The higher risk ones are going to be where you’re actually in each other’s faces, like tackling in football and guarding in basketball,” he said. “You can’t do that without risk.”
Marion mother Karen Williams’ son, Cooper, is switching from football to cross-country entering his first year of high school.
While she sees a benefit with cross-country being a low-risk sport, Williams also thinks that judging low-risk vs. high-risk sports can be misleading. She uses cheerleading as an example.
“If you’re not stunting and you’re just cheering, I’d consider that pretty low risk,” she said.
Risk increases in cheerleading because members are projecting their voices, but there are tradeoffs in that cheer team members often can space out, Hodson said.
“Any time you’re yelling or singing, you’re actually going to be blowing a lot more droplets out,” he said. “They’re going to be 20 feet from the closest person and outdoors, which should be helpful. When they congregate, they’re going to need to wear masks.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines five risk levels for athletics in its supplemental guidelines for playing youth sports. The CDC lists competitions against other teams from the same geographic area as being the second riskiest behavior, while in-team scrimmages fall in the middle category.
Arnold has been decreasing opportunities for different interactions at camp by separating girls into small groups for the duration of camp and assigning specific varsity team members to act as coaches for each group throughout the week.
Arnold thinks it isn’t feasible to disinfect balls between points, but they are wiped down each day between time slots for younger and older girls.
“We’re doing what we can and trying to add the sanitizer,” she said. “They’re spraying their arms as well as their hands just to keep things as clean as possible. The good part is that in volleyball you’re on the same side of the court as the opponent.”
She thinks it is likely teams will not switch sides between games or high-five opponents after matches.
Arnold was surprised by how many students signed up for this week’s camp, with 15 from grades three to five and 35 middle school players.
Seeing younger players and her varsity girls adapt to wearing masks gives Arnold hope, not just for sports, but for school as well.
“They didn’t play with their masks while they were watching and they weren’t messing with them,” she said. “I felt like they did a really good job with it. Maybe we’re underestimating them.”
Williams does not want her son wearing a mask for so many hours each day. Any time Cooper gets sick, it affects his breathing, which she believes will be more difficult with a mask.
As a result, Williams said, she won’t be surprised if Cooper has to continue distance learning.
She thinks there should be an increased emphasis on general health.
“This is something no one talks about,” she said. “What can you do on your own? Take vitamins, drink lots of water, exercise, and get your sleep.”
Many factors that can increase personal health are helpful from a generic health standpoint, Hodson said.
“The healthier you act, the healthier you are,” he said. “I can’t disagree with that.”
For adults like coaches, who could be in an at-risk demographic, Williams thinks that if they are concerned, school might not be the right environment for them to work.
“If they’re fearful, then maybe it’s time to retire,” she said.
Going without fall sports would be difficult for Arnold, but she sees promising indications that a season will happen.
“If we can get any competition in at all, then my girls will be super thrilled,” she said. “To me there’s hope because I was pretty sure they were going to cancel it all.”
Even if there is a fall season, teams may be limited to their geographical areas and specific classes, Arnold said.
“That would change our schedule some, especially the tournaments,” she said. “We have schools from all over that come to those, which is why we go to them.”