The absence of team sports has far-reaching repercussions, and not just for the athletes.
As we head into our Fall 2020 semester, we know that distance learning, which will keep our kids and community healthy, will have repercussions on many levels. The primary concern, of course, is academics, but that is not all there is to school. Among all the other factors, sports comes in a very close second. The benefits — on the athletes, the student body, and the community — are immeasurable for so many reasons.
The Athletic Directors and Athletic Trainers at Fauquier County Public Schools are facing an almost impossible task: maximizing the sports experience while also minimizing the risks. Some very hard work over the summer has put a workable plan into play. While it may need to be adjusted if the situation changes, the athletic staff are doing the very best they can to give the kids as much as they can.
We interviewed Bryan Grimley, Athletic Trainer at Fauquier High School. In his 13th year in this role and also as a Physical Education teacher, he has worked with students from grades 9 to 12 and has a unique and knowledgeable perspective on this issue.
What are the effects of the absence of sports activities?
We have seen that already. This spring, our athletes had their season taken away before it really got started. This was devastating to them, especially students who were applying for sports scholarships. To see the faces of our seniors and hear the anger and sadness in their voices — it was awful. It hurt.
The kids miss being together, and unfortunately that’s one of the hardest things for them right now, just not being able to be with their buddies. That lack of socialization is so damaging, and not just to the sports community. There’s so much to be lost.
Athletes are not the only ones affected by not having sports. Families, friends, classmates, coaches, and other enthusiastic and supportive sports fans in the community are disappointed too. Sports are something a lot of kids can get behind one way or another, whether it’s actually playing, or cheering at the games. It really builds a school and brings the whole community closer together.
All of the coaches talk about how much we miss the kids. I went to go home yesterday and it was 2:30, while I’m used to being here until 7. And I was thinking, it’s really hot; I would have had to modify practice to be safe and avoid the kids overheating. But there’s no one here. We miss them as much as they miss being here, for sure.
What are the possible effects of the missed fitness and skills training on athletes?
We expect deconditioning to be a factor at first. While some students may have been able to get out and exercise and keep up with their skills and strength, others were not. Some students went to work to help meet the needs of their families because their parents were furloughed or laid-off. Others became teachers and babysitters to younger siblings and neighbor children, etc. while schools and other care facilities were closed.
Some kids joined Club or Rec teams just to help keep up their skills and their fitness level. Those teams are not governed by the VSL, so their restrictions are different. Some kids didn’t have the means to do that or there were other issues such as transportation. So they did as much as they could, when they could, however they could, to try to stay in shape.
How did FCPS plan to proceed with sports activities going into the fall semester?
The three High Schools, Kettle Run, Liberty, and Fauquier, worked together to put together a return plan. It was a very tedious and time-consuming process. We wanted to get it right. The three county Athletic Directors (Dean Spahr-LHS, Paul Frye-KRHS, Mark Ott-FHS) and the 4 county Athletic Trainers (Mandy Carter-LHS, Natalie Campbell, Reylin Morgan-LHS and myself-FHS) all worked together to develop a return policy. Our procedures are based on best practices and current recommendations from the CDC, the VDH, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), the NFHS, and the VHSL. I can tell you that it has the safety of our students and our staff at its core as we also try to do the best we can for our kids athletically and academically. We have embedded in our policy many safety and mitigation strategies to keep all participants safe.
How is that plan working out?
A primary focus of these initial conditioning and workout sessions is on individual skills and reconditioning. Again, it all comes down to safety; we want our kids to stay healthy, so we are going to have to take it slow.
Depending on what stage we are in, the permitted activities vary. At stage 2, although it’s still very limited, we can do more: quarterbacks can throw to receivers, field hockey kids can pass balls, and baseball players can play catch. But everything must take place outside and follow covid protocols. Everyone still has to stay 10 feet apart, wear masks at all times, and bring their own water bottles. Shared equipment is sanitized every 10-15 minutes.
We are asking our coaches to consider the individual needs of all their athletes as they start training with their teams. Everybody’s doing their best. Coaches are communicating with their kids, and the kids and parents are doing a really great job being flexible and adjusting to the rules. It’s been — knock on wood — a smooth process, considering how hectic it might have been.
I can’t say enough about the team of Athletic Directors and Athletic Trainers who worked on the return plan and are doing their best as we go into this fall semester. You know, on the field we’re opponents, but in reality, we are one team — we are like a little family. We worked really hard on this and I think it will show. I am proud to be a part of the FCPS Athletic Community, and we are all keeping our fingers crossed that spring sports will be on schedule.
What are the specific benefits in sports participation for children?
Athletes must learn to balance their school work with athletic responsibilities and other commitments like work, chores, home life, friends, family, etc.
Athletes learn how to be a part of something that is bigger than just them, and to work with others. They learn to appreciate the value of their individual effort contributing to a bigger, collaborative, team effort. You may not always like your teammates, but at the end of the day, they are your team and you learn to work together.
Life-long friendships are made on sports fields. Students have the opportunity to meet new people and develop friendships outside of their usual group.
Responsibility and Accountability
Athletes are required to keep their academic grades up, and also stay out of trouble at home and at school.