Deana Chefchis

CROSSFIRE: Should High School Students be Upset About Sports Being Cancelled?

November 19, 2020

Students Should be Concerned


COVID-19 is known to be a pathogen that can severely affect all groups of people, especially the elderly and those with underlying conditions, but the lockdowns that have proceeded from the outbreaks are truly hurting adolescents, especially those that live in poverty. In an attempt to preserve the health of thousands, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has almost completely shut down the economy, as well as all activities including youth sports. Participants in youth sports, especially high school ones, have publicly protested her decision. New Mexico along with other states such as California have put youth sports on the back burner because it does logically make sense that contact sports such as basketball, football, and soccer be limited. However, not a single outbreak in New Mexico since the pandemic’s beginning can be traced back to youth sports. Many high school athletes argue that Governor Grisham, by limiting youth sports, is not hindering the spread of COVID-19 cases and is negatively impacting the careers and mental health of thousands of youth athletes in the process.

Thanks to social media, high school athletics and their athletes have gained nearly as much or, in some instances, as much popularity as their professional counterparts. High school basketball superstar Mikey Williams, a likely NBA prospect, is only 16, yet he has more than twice as many Instagram followers as perennial NBA All-star Pascal Siakiam. A key difference between the two is that Pascal Siakam, even if the NBA had failed to continue its season, would still have received millions of dollars and have a safe source of income, while Mikey Williams, and most high school athletes cannot say the same.
25.9 percent of children in New Mexico live in poverty, and with the government pointing more funding towards predominantly whiter and richer schools, poor children’s schools simply do not provide an adequate education to help lift these athletes out of poverty. Playing athletics and hoping to make it big enough to be paid, while a long shot, provides a potential route out of the vicious American economic system that keeps families in poverty for generations.It also helps to ensure that adolescents stay out of trouble and out of jail.

Some athletes, such as Mikey Williams himself, have left their home states and moved to states that are allowing youth sports games to continue. The athletes relying on sports and putting in hours of practice each and every day to save their family’s socioeconomic misfortune, do not have the same privilege. Fedonta “JB” White, who was unfortunately shot and killed recently at the young age of 17, was one of the most beloved figures in New Mexico and ranked in the top-50 nationally of basketball players in the Class of 2021 by 247sports. White was raised by his grandmother, and despite being less fortunate economically, prospered athletically. Being ranked in the top-50 in basketball gave him a good chance to lift himself and his grandmother out of their condition and be an inspiration to millions of young and less fortunate athletes across the country. The governor’s decision is hurting athletes who are looking to sports as their one escape route when they haven’t been given any others.

Two-thirds of high school athletes have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression since the pandemic began. While we cannot say for sure that lockdowns are the cause, Kellan Gehres ‘23, a member of the boys varsity basketball team, said, “For [some] athletes, sports is one of the most important things in their lives. Without organized sports, one of the most important parts of our lives [is being taken away].” Anna Babinksi ‘23, a member of the girls varsity soccer team since her freshman year, had similar remarks saying, “Right now our governor has become excessive. I think it is totally safe to play sports with masks on. Athletes, including myself, not only want their sports back but need them back for the sake of our mental health.” Without sports, young athletes are feeling alone and anxious. They have the right to feel angry that nothing is being done about it. Their symptoms must be addressed.

New Mexico, a state in which impoverished high school athletes need every sliver of exposure to college recruiters that they can get, is one of few states that has put the brakes on youth athletics. Protests have erupted claiming the governor is being too radical with her regulations. While the protestors may not necessarily be as sensitive to the dangers of Coronavirus as many, they are being neglected in many ways and have the right to feel angry. So even if we don’t allow youth sports, we as a state have a moral obligation to make sure that all our young athletes feel safe, happy, and secure.

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Students Should Not be Concerned

Coronavirus has changed all of our lives; our worlds have been flipped upside down. Science has proven that the most important thing to do in order to prevent the spread of the virus is to stay home and avoid contact with all non-family members as much as possible. Bringing back the daily practice and play of sports, as important as it may be to our psychological well being, would not help flatten the curve. By practicing sports at the current time, we are risking not only our own health, but the health of our family members and close ones. We need to focus on the bigger task at hand. The faster we start taking necessary precautions and limiting contact with others, the faster we will be able to come back to school and continue playing sports. While sports scholarships are at risk, so are the lives of ourselves, our friends, and our families.

While many strong precautions had been enforced at the beginning of the pandemic’s arrival in America, in recent months, some slack has been cut, causing an enormous spike in cases. This month, New Mexico has been averaging around 1,000 cases a day consistently compared to only 200 a day from March to September. New Mexico hospitalizations more than tripled from a month ago, KRQE states. The shortage of doctors has been forcing our hospitals to plead for assistance from out-of-state professionals. At this point, we know that the pandemic situation isn’t going to get better, at least for a while. So why do athletes want to keep playing sports when they should be staying home and saving lives?

Although high school athletics are important, so is protecting people more prone to the virus. A big issue brought up by athletes when Governor Lujan-Grisham issued a ban on fall sports was college scholarships. Kids who are reliant on these scholarships were very upset, knowing that the loss of this sports season would influence their chance of admission into top colleges. While this can be entirely frustrating to some, there are positive ways of looking at things. With extra time on their hands, students can focus on improving their grades. According to the New Mexico Activities Association, 70 percent of student athletes had at least one failing grade in September. Because of the epidemic, colleges have been forced to look at school grades, as they have become the most important factor in identifying top students. Without sports, athletes can focus on getting their grades up and looking good for colleges in a different way. Students can find new extracurricular activities they can work on from home and fill up their college resume to look attractive to top universities in place of their usual fall sport. And, for low income students, they can work towards receiving merit, rather than athletic, scholarships from universities.

The college admission process will be very different this year, but recruiters will understand the unusual circumstances athletes are under..Elite colleges around the country will be more lenient, and some won’t even be looking at important college application necessities from past years like standardized test scores. There are many other ways for student athletes to impress recruiters from the safety of their home. Instead of going out and protesting, students should be focusing on finding unique solutions that help them stand out in a crowd of athletes who have lost a season. Losing this fall season doesn’t mean losing admission.
Now is a time for all New Mexicans to come together instead of being forced apart. We can all agree on one thing; we want to prevent as much loss as possible. Although sports are an enormous part of student social life and extracurricular activities, they have also played a part in the rapid spread of the virus. Right now, as the cases are surging, it is not safe to go on playing. It is also insensitive to those who have lost family members due to the virus to go on practicing like nothing is happening and risking even more lives in the process. Instead of ruminating over a lost season, we need to be taking the necessary precautions to avoid the unnecessary spread so that we can get back on campus and continue practicing sports as soon and safely as possible.

Jesus Barraza ‘21 explains, “I’m disappointed that odds are I won’t have a senior season, but when it comes to the health of our community I completely understand. I have a really close family with a few members that are at an increased risk for severe illness from covid, so I get why the governor is doing what she’s doing. You know if one player, one ref, or fan has it, they could easily spread it to a number of people and that’s not what we want. I know a couple of people that had it, and luckily they’re still here, but from what I’ve been told, it’s not pretty. People talk about quarantining if they have symptoms, but as I hope most people know, those that are asymptomatic are just as likely to spread the virus.”

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