When you talk to folks in and around our part of Southwestern Virginia, much of the discussion centers on schools — when will our children return to school classes full time without fear of infection and, sometimes more often, when will high school sports return?
Like it or not, sports are big deals to a lot of people, be it parents who flock to high school football, basketball, volleyball or other games of the team sports or college-level fans who say they need to huddle together at tailgate gatherings in the parking lot of Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech or fields at the University of Virginia.
For more than a few students in localities like Floyd County, sports — and the scholarships they offer — are a route to colleges where the costs are beyond the financial means of too many families.
High School sports at Virginia high schools are schedule to start on Dec. 28 in an abbreviated schedule of basketball, wrestling and perhaps more.
High school football and volleyball were pushed to late Spring of 2021 in what will be an abbreviated series.
The Virginia High School League, which controls all public school athletics in the Old Dominion suspended all high school athletic events at the start of the Spring sports season and continued the suspension for the fall and set winter sports to start later than normal on Dec. 28.
All fall sports were postponed and rescheduled to start on March 1 of next years. VHSL is expected to review those decisions in late November or early December.
“It depends on the VHSL,” Dr. John Wheeler, Floyd County’s superintendent of schools, said after the October school board meeting earlier this week.
Floyd County High School students have been in the classrooms one day a week since the start of the current school year and study at home the other days. That changes on Monday, when students start attending classes two days a week.
It’s the same throughout the pandemic-affected United States.
“Everything is closed down,” Tyrone Riley, varsity basketball coach at Jordan High School in South Los Angeles, tells Kurt Streeter of The New York Times. “I’m a coach, but the time my boys spend playing is down probably 80 percent. I spend a lot of time wondering how we’re going to get out of this.”
The Aspen Institute has a new study that show American kids from ages 6 to 18 are playing at least 50 percent less time in sports. The study says 30 percent of youths who stopped playing sports before the pandemic are not likely to return.
They’ve lost interest. Likely, some have lost momentum. Others have probably gotten so used to spending time on screens and video games that getting out on a field and running around seems less appealing.
Tom Farrey, director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, told Sreeter. “a lot of kids have checked out of sports. This is a moment of historic crisis.”
“It will be a battle to get them back,” Streeter says.
Streeter, who covers sports for the Times, says “the pandemic-fueled decline in youth participation is just one piece of a larger puzzle.”
Few people are attending games of any kind. The fear of large crowds is wise, and it’s keeping most of us away from sitting in stands or standing on sidelines or even gathering for television watch parties.
But we need to be aware of the cost: Children, families and friends have been cut from fandom’s communal tradition. There are now far fewer chances to form friendships around watching sports together, and less opportunity for our youth to feel the generation-to-generation connections that come from getting together and rooting for a team.
Next year, it is likely that teams in dozens of cities and towns across the country will shutter for good.
High school football has returned to some regions, but in many others it remains only a memory. High school wrestling, gymnastics and basketball in indoor gyms this winter or early next year? With another surge in the virus expected, don’t bet on any of that.
Rich Luker is founder of Luker on Trends, and is a social psychologist who studies the bond between sports involvement that begins with kids and becomes a lifetime passion.
“What we’re talking about is a loss of simple community,” Luker tells Streeter. “The ramifications might be felt for generations. Just like after the Depression.”
“I’m worried,” Streeter writes. “Are you?”