Student athletes deserve a fall season: The academic, social, and physical benefits of playing a sport

Daniel Greilsheimer, Opinions Editor

In the twisting saga that is New York high school sports, it appears that school sports will not begin for most Long Island public schools until early Jan. 2021.  Governor Cuomo originally announced that all sports, some with competition and some with practice only, could begin on Sept. 21.  The day after he made that announcement, Nassau County alone decided to push back high school sports, in their entirety, until 2021.  At that time, Suffolk County was still ready to begin their fall season and was even considering allowing fans to attend.  

Nassau’s initial postponement rocked the hearts of student athletes, who had just gotten some sense of hope from Cuomo’s original announcement.  Just days later, Suffolk followed Nassau’s lead and postponed sports to Jan. with three condensed seasons.  These decisions were finalized recently, when the official schedule for school sports was released.  The postponement of school sports is extremely difficult and disruptive for student athletes, who desperately want to play, as evidenced by the current player protests happening.  High school sports can and should be played in at least a limited capacity this fall.

Given the relatively warm temperatures and the lowest coronavirus case rates since the beginning of the pandemic in New York, all the stars seem to be aligned for an environment that would allow high school sports to begin safely.  Obviously, safety is the number one priority, so it is understandable that Nassau and Suffolk County decided to wait a couple of weeks before solidifying their postponement plans. Despite the low  numbers  on the high school level as well as the successful start of club and recreational leagues, both Nassau and Suffolk County slammed the door on hopeful young athletes. 

There are numerous ways safety policies could have been implemented during practices and meets that would have made them no more dangerous than a typical school day.  Masks can be required until athletes are a certain distance apart outside, just like gym class, and if the sport requires athletes to be in closer contact with each other, masks could be utilized even during play.  Hand sanitizing stations could also be installed on all of the fields.  

With research proving that playing sports and participating in some kind of physical activity helps students focus, concentrate, and oftentimes succeed academically, schools should have spent more time planning for and investing in a sports season.   

“If sports are made to run in a safe way, then the benefits to mental health are really important for student athletes,” said junior Jamie Goldman.

Playing a sport helps to reduce stress, which is a significant issue that many high school students face.  Athletics is an outlet to let off steam after a tough school day and can be critical for a student’s mental health. 

“Sports provide something other than school to focus on and get people’s minds off the stress of the day,” said junior Terry McGinty.  

Sports also helps students form tighter friendship bonds and gives teammates a sense of camaraderie that is now missing from a normal school day.  It is unique in the opportunity it provides for students of all grades and backgrounds to come together with the common goal of winning and achieving success.

“Students need an outlet  and sports provides them a break from the screens to socialize,” said junior Jolie Baltic. 

 In addition, seniors who have been on a team for a number of years have been looking forward to their last season as a high school athlete, the culmination of many years of hard work.  Taking away that experience is unnecessary and extremely disappointing for many.

Although some sports should be allowed this fall, it makes sense to initially limit athletics to low-risk sports, such as tennis and cross country.  As of right now, it is still too dangerous for an indoor sport or a close contact sport, like volleyball or football, to be played in a truly competitive manner.  

Other than high-risk sports, which can be relegated to practices only, safer sports should be allowed to begin practicing and competition should be permitted against other schools.  The potential benefits of playing a school sport greatly outweigh the risks at this point in the pandemic, so  the fall season should be played.