COVID-19: The Fall of High School Sports

Written By: Jamir Harris

Photo: Sport.one

Time flies when you’re having fun, but when life isn’t progressing the way you thought, father time moves slow which allows anxiousness and frustration to evolve. After eight months of coaches sitting on their living room couches, pondering about how and when their team’s high school season would begin, the stay at home order was lifted and basketball was on its way back.

The range of emotions varied. Some were relieved for the opportunity to compete in their sport once again. Others were heartbroken about the damage COVID has already done. COVID’s impact on the United States continues to be vigorous. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 13,176,236 coronavirus cases have surfaced and there have been 265,239 deaths.

Men’s Basketball Head coach Bob Turco of Saint Thomas Aquinas (NJ) was one of the others.

“I’m still very very upset and feel for the kids because they’ve lost a huge part of their development for the next level due to the coronavirus.” Turco said.

Audio Link to Bob Turco Interview

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the daily functions of athletic programs worldwide and the scariest part is, no one saw it coming.

For college athletes, the coronavirus has tarnished the ability to properly prepare for a season which has implications on their professional future. Professional athletes have been robbed of their preparation for a season which could have lifted their abilities to new heights.

High school athletes are the least fortunate of them all because the stakes are different. COVID-19 has limited their ability to prepare for a season which could determine their fate for furthering their education.

On August 26, 2020, a survey was conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) regarding the impact of COVID-19 on student recruitment for Fall 2021 and beyond. In correlation with the NACAC study examining strategic data analytics in college admission offices, 53 percent of the respondents reported COVID-19 would have a substantial impact on student recruitment.

Student recruitment is identical to the recruitment of student athletes from high school. These athletes are in a constant battle with the threat of COVID-19 and there is no escaping the doubt that comes with it.

Head Coach Craig Cokely of Woodrow Wilson (OR) Men’s Basketball agrees with this conclusion, based on the reality of his team situation.

“I have a group of six seniors this year who have taken their lumps in a very tough league and they most likely won’t be able to play their senior season, which diminishes their chances of earning a college scholarship.” Cokely said in an interview.

All sports rely on the ability of the players for success. Coaches can check off all the boxes, however, it means nothing if the players don’t perform.

Before a player performs in front of the bright lights it is imperative to put in the work behind the scenes when no one is watching. For eight months, COVID had taken away this opportunity to do so for many high school athletes. There are nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States and only 495,000 of these athletes will compete at NCAA schools, according to NCAA.org.

With COVID-19 still in the picture the odds of high school athletes competing in college has decreased. 

High school athletes not being able to chase the grind and work at their craft as they routinely did prior to the pandemic was a challenge to say the least.

Tristian Jeffries, a senior guard for Saint Thomas Aquinas agreed that COVID presented a challenge like no other.

“It’s all about repetition and since I couldn’t play the game it was difficult to physically prepare and my mindset wasn’t the same, it’s never been like this.” Jeffries said in an interview.

It’s true, the world of high school athletics has never had to face the wrath of an extremely contagious virus, which unfortunately can result in death.

Despite the reality of the virus there is still light at the end of the tunnel for high school athletes.

Link to Clearer Image of Info Graph (View in Fullscreen)

For all high school basketball players and coaches, COVID has led to unimaginable amounts of change and continues to do so as the season approaches.

Team comradery and development are essential parts of success, especially in sport. However, good things take time, and COVID hasn’t given this luxury to anyone.

“It has been extremely difficult for our basketball program; we haven’t had access to our gyms or our weight rooms for 8 months and time is not on our side.” Cokley said in an interview.

According to Coach Cokley, COVID has also taken away the traditional and primary source of development for his players. In order to prepare for an upcoming season Woodrow Wilson’s junior varsity and varsity players would compete in men’s leagues. Leagues which would enhance the development of each player individually and as a unit.

Coach Turco and his Saint Thomas Aquinas Spartans were uncertain about their ability to progress and grow as a team because of the opportunities COVID has taken away from them.

“COVID caused us to miss March, April, May and June which for us here at Saint Thomas is an enormous part of our development.” Turco said in an interview.

For Turco, the physical abilities of his players aren’t his primary concern. It’s the ability to form a bond and connection with one another.

“Time and team comradery go hand in hand, but unfortunately, time to build chemistry is what we don’t have.” Turco said in an interview.

The element of uncertainty. As a player and a coach there is nothing worse than working toward a goal when uncertainty presents itself with every step taken in any direction.

There has never been more uncertainty surrounding the game of basketball than now. Unfortunately, COVID’s uncertainty has caused issues. However, in the heat of the battle, basketball is a game of adjustments. 

Leo Sewell, a junior guard on the Woodrow Wilson (OR) varsity basketball team knows a lot about adjustments.

“COVID has taken away my ability to play against live defense, so I’ve been working out harder than I usually would in order to simulate the conditioning aspect of the game.” Sewell said in an interview.

Adjustments for all players aren’t the same. The mental game can outweigh the physical. Samar Abdullah, junior guard for Saint Thomas Aquinas, had to rely on his mental strength more than before.

“Since I wasn’t able to do much physically because of COVID, I used the time to sharpen up mentally for when my opportunity to play came around.” Abdullah said in an interview.

Even Though, the coronavirus pandemic is a nightmare, the restrictions caused by it have not been bad for all athletes. Sometimes change is for the better and as an athlete you just have to be willing to accept it.

Sitting in the house with nothing but time enables one to think and find alternate ways to be productive. When a situation is difficult, athletes have to read between the lines and look at the brighter side of things. More times than not doing so will make the situation easier to handle.

“One positive of COVID is that it’s made me pay more attention to my eating habits, it’s forced me to control what I can by putting the right things into my body.” Jeffries said in an interview.

Some athletes realize the time away from the game has caused more positives than negatives. High school minds aren’t as one track minded as people think. Even during a worldwide pandemic.

“COVID’s circumstances have made me focus up and gave me an opportunity to see what I need to fix, I’ve gotten better from this.” Sewell said in an interview.

Although COVID’s impact wasn’t completely damaging for all athletes, it has led to one common emotion, fear.

“I get scared about not having this season because I don’t have any secure scholarship offers and sometimes, I think that COVID may take away my chances to get any.” Lewell said in an interview.

COVID has changed the landscape of high school sports and has impacted the preparation for high school seasons. It remains to be seen how detrimental the virus will be for high school athletes, who still have hope of competing at the collegiate level and playing in their 2020-21 high school season.

“Life is about taking risks, and we’ll never know if this will work unless we try.” Jeffries said in an interview.

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