The Case for Spring Sports: Why Lawrenceville Should Follow Through on Interscholastic Sports

Though Covid-19 has changed countless facets of our lives—classes, travel, events and graduations—it doesn’t have to take away this year’s spring athletic season as well.

Though Covid-19 has changed countless facets of our lives—classes, travel, events and graduations—it doesn’t have to take away this year’s spring athletic season as well. With so many Lawrenceville athletes currently competing at a level where they can be recruited, this spring is essential: thus, we as a community must do everything we can to preserve the season. Lawrenceville must follow through with participating in athletics at an interscholastic level this spring.

Contrary to popular belief, athletics during the pandemic, when done right, are safe. Take Iowa State University, for example. This past season, the university’s football team ran on a motto of sacrifice. In order to keep their season alive, players made small sacrifices that effectively snowballed into a complete defense against the virus. For example, Head Coach Matt Campbell pushed for typical quarantines, mask-wearing, and distancing protocols. Yet Iowa State’s greatest triumph was its control of off-field interactions. Even when Iowa State played teams with fewer safety protocols or less cautious players, the close contact on the field did not result in an increase in Covid-19 cases. Over the course of the season, the National federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) found that on-field interaction carries a low transmission risk—it is off-field social interactions that pose the most danger to players. Iowa State was ultimately successful in fending off Covid-19 because of its strict off-field masking and social distancing protocols.

Following the same trend, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA’s) basketball league restarted operations on November 25, 2020, after a recess. So far, the league has been able to conduct upwards of 20 games a day at venues across the country, all the while keeping its athletes safe. This is largely due to the universal protocols the league has put out to all participating organizations: social distancing off the court, mandatory mask-wearing, and strict sanitization of arenas. With all of these precautions in effect, the league looks forward to conducting the famous March Madness tournament this coming month. Though basketball is a high-contact, high-risk indoor competition, the NCAA has shown that with proper off-court protocols, the spread of Covid-19 is far less likely. If basketball can continue, why can’t outdoor spring sports do the same? One paper from the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that “Despite a high number of tackle involvements and close proximity interactions between SARS-CoV-2 positive players and players on the same and opposition teams during a rugby league match…in-game SARS-CoV-2 transmission is limited during these types of team sport activities played outdoors.” Thus, as long as we take the necessary off-field precautions, outdoor sports (even high-contact ones) will pose a minimal risk to students.

Lawrenceville itself was extremely successful in keeping Covid-19 at bay while still holding athletic events in the fall. I was able to throw shot and disc with the track team and even participate in mock meets, all the while staying safe from the virus. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Lawrenceville conducted on-campus athletics and kept student positivity rates to less than 0.1 percent. If sports posed an extreme risk to community health, those numbers likely would have been higher.

In the same way that we successfully curbed the spread of Covid-19 in the fall, neighboring schools can follow our example as well. If we can create a community of similar institutions willing to work towards a common goal, we can realize the dream of a spring season. Perhaps, for the first time, Lawrenceville and The Hill School will be able to work together on the sports field.

I can also attest to the critical role that athletics played in the success of the Fall Term on the whole with regard to student mental health. During a normal term, cabin fever leaves many of us spending hours in one location cramming for a final exam. But when cabin fever becomes the norm, any outdoor exercise one can get is therapeutic. In fact, the NCAA notes that athletics in dire circumstances contribute to overall positive mental health. We can take our progress from the Fall Term one step further by allowing students to enjoy outdoor sports and the excitement of interscholastic competition.

Of course, Lawrenceville would love to compete interscholastically this spring. Most athletes desperately want the season to continue. The question is: how we can conduct a season in a manner that keeps everyone as safe as possible? Looking at the success of larger leagues provides an answer: proper off-field protocols such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and restrictions on equipment sharing. Ultimately, if we implement and follow these procedures, we should be able to compete interscholastically.

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