By Stefanie Jackson – Accomack school sports enthusiasts asked the school board Tuesday night to reinstate winter sports that were canceled due to COVID-19, but school officials were not big fans of the idea.
It was the first meeting to allow public comments since the school sports “ban” was enacted Dec. 1.
“Sports are not a significant source of increased risk for spreading the virus” causing COVID-19, said Giovanni Rosanova, of Chincoteague.
He cited a University of Wisconsin study on COVID-19 and high school athletics conducted at 207 schools during the fall sports season. The study involved 30,000 students, 16,000 sports practices, and 4,000 games.
During the study, 209 students (less than 1%) contracted COVID-19 but only one of those cases was attributed to participation in sports, Rosanova said.
He expected that few to no spectators would be allowed at the games, and students would be required to wear face masks and social distance except during gameplay.
“Those sacrifices are worth it for the students,” he said.
He commended Accomack schools for addressing students’ academic needs but claimed children’s psychological needs are not being met.
For some children, “their heart, their soul” is in a favorite sport, Rosanova said, and they have been deprived.
Billy Justice, of Onancock, who is the president of Central Accomack Little League, said he hosted Little League during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was “tremendously great,” with 316 Eastern Shore kids participating without issue.
He advocated for the Accomack schools sports program. “It keeps them out of trouble, it keeps them fit … these kids need sports,” he said.
Arthur Leonard, of Chincoteague, spoke on behalf of the Chincoteague Athletic Boosters Club.
“The physical and mental health of our student athletes is being negatively impacted by the current restrictions. Our children thrive physically and academically when being part of a team.”
Losing the opportunity to play sports is “heartbreaking” for students, Leonard said.
He sympathized with seniors who have lost their “time to shine” and will likely graduate “in a parking lot or on a computer screen.”
School sports help motivate kids to go to school and stay in school, and attendance, class participation, and grades are “tanking” without school sports, Leonard said.
He noted that students in Delaware and at private schools like Broadwater Academy and Holly Grove Christian School played fall sports “without incident.”
Leonard suggested allowing parents to sign waivers for kids to participate in school sports, limiting competitions to the Eastern Shore, and only playing outdoors.
But school board member Lisa Johnson, speaking as a parent and “sports mom,” was not convinced that playing sports outdoors offered a meaningful solution.
Locker rooms are indoors, sports equipment is stored indoors, and student athletes often share transportation, she pointed out.
“Right now we know that staying within our bubble is important,” she said.
Superintendent Chris Holland, a self-proclaimed sports lover, said his priority is safety.
He prefers to follow suit with 10 out 15 other schools in the region, which are not holding winter sports.
“I’m not ruling out anything,” Holland said. But he believes the school district should wait until a COVID-19 vaccine is available before planning to hold school sports events.
Chairman Paul Bull asked the superintendent to re-examine the issue and make a recommendation at the next school board meeting Jan. 5.
School board member Ed Taylor requested that a committee be formed to prepare for upcoming sports seasons.
According to a schedule released in September by the Virginia High School League, basketball began Dec. 7, and other winter sports like wrestling began Dec. 14.
Fall sports like volleyball were postponed until Feb. 15, 2021, and spring sports like baseball, softball, and soccer were scheduled to begin April 12, 2021.