According to multiple sources, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association will make a decision on the fate of the 2020-21 fall sports season, one way or the other, before the calendar hits Aug. 1.
I’m worried. Have been for a while.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has felt manageable here in New Hampshire, it’s surging in far away states like Texas, Florida, Arizona and California. Countrywide, June marked the most aggressive month for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Here in July, with thanks to ramped-up testing, new cases are popping up by the tens of thousands — daily.
So, yeah, I’ve been worried about the fall high school sports season and the rest of 2020 in general.
I did get an unexpected pep talk on Thursday morning.
Bill Ball, the athletic director and head football coach at Exeter High School, struck a completely different chord when asked about the fate of fall sports.
“It comes down to discipline,” Ball said. “I think we’ll have all sports. I feel good about the fall.”
Those are words I took to heart. We all should. Ball has long served as a chairman for the NHIAA football committee. He’s watched his football players and other fall athletes in Exeter do the right things this summer in preparation for a return to play. If there’s a chance to play contact sports in September, we now know some of the leaders in that meeting will be advocating for it.
But it still comes down to discipline. It comes down to doing the right things.
It comes down to wearing a mask.
Ball wears a mask — sometimes for hours on end when he’s working or interacting with athletes, and said he isn’t bothered by it in the least. Should fall sports get the green light, the guess here is that coaches, media members and maybe even spectators would be required to wear them as well. Non-negotiable.
And if that’s a problem for people — we’re in serious danger of losing the joy and camaraderie of local sports for another four months.
Until we get a vaccination for COVID-19, experts have told us to wear a mask inside public buildings or in highly populated outdoor areas, and practice social distancing. Will we follow these simple guidelines? Or will we continue to bicker over politics as the death toll rises (we’re up over 130,000 here in the U.S.) and the virus makes its way from coast to coast?
Locally, we haven’t seen the worst of this thing. Not yet, at least. It’s on us to keep it that way.
It’s on you. It’s on me. If masking up for a trip to the grocery, hardware store, coffee shop or soccer game can help us stem the tide and get our everyday lives back — and the alternative puts more lives at risk — why is there even a discussion out there?
Masking up should not be synonymous with living in fear. It should have nothing to do with your political affiliation. It should have no bearing on how American or un-American you are. It should be about working together and doing what medical experts have been telling us to do. Until we get the vaccine. Period.
The NHIAA is going to make its decision on fall sports soon, by mid-month I’m hearing. Juggling the infection numbers in New Hampshire against what could be spreading from the South and West Coast will be difficult at best.
In the meantime, we can all do our part.
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for Seacoast Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanOLearySMG.